Understanding and Avoiding the Hazards of Raw Sewage
Raw sewage is a particularly dangerous substance to have in your home. In addition to the terrible smell, sewage can cause a number of serious diseases. When flushed down a toilet, raw sewage is sent to a processing plant where it is rendered harmless and usually turned into fertilizer. However, malfunctioning plumbing and septic systems can cause the toilet to send sewage gushing back into your home. I think that a good starting point for homeowners concerned about raw sewage backups is to understand the difference between gray water and black water.
Gray water is water that goes down drains but does not contain human waste. This category includes water from showering, washing dishes, and doing laundry. Gray water often appears dirty, but it does not pose an immediate health risk. Black water is water that is flushed down toilets. The presence of human feces and in black water make it very dangerous.
Raw sewage backups are frequently caused by a toilet that has simply become clogged. These types of overflows are usually small and quite manageable. However, problems with the septic tank can lead to serious overflows. Septic tanks work by allowing solid waste to break down and eventually drain out as liquid. This leaves a small amount of solid matter at the bottom of the tank, which must be vacuumed out periodically. If homeowners fail to have this done, the solid matter can clog the tank, causing sewage to back up and flood the bathroom. Problems with municipal sewer lines can also cause a toilet overflow.
Exposure to raw sewage carries numerous health risks. Bacteria such as E. coli and Salmonella and parasites like Giardia are prolific in sewage. It also contains innumerable viruses including polio and hepatitis. It is critical for sewage workers to know the symptoms of these illnesses so that they can seek immediate medical treatment if they become infected. Finally, workers who handle raw sewage must be vaccinated against tetanus, polio, typhoid, hepatitis A and B, and cholera. I cannot stress enough that a home flooded with raw sewage must be evacuated immediately. This is especially important for infants, the elderly, pregnant women, and those with compromised immune systems.
Professional sewage handlers use a combination of protective equipment and procedures to avoid the hazards of raw sewage. Goggles and face shields are used to protect the eyes, nose, and mouth from any sewage that may splash into the face area. Although some may find it excessive, I believe that an antibacterial respirator is a good way to protect against any airborne pathogens. A full body water-repellant suit must be worn to prevent sewage from soaking into clothing. Rubber gloves and boots are also necessary. In addition to this personal protective equipment, sewage workers must have processes in place to avoid spreading pathogens into clean areas of the customer’s home. These procedures include removing contaminated footwear before stepping out of the flooded area and washing hands immediately after removing personal protective equipment.
If you have experienced a serious sewage backup, call a professional sewage cleanup service. Some plumbing services are able to handle this task in addition to fixing the backed up plumbing. A water damage restoration service is another option, and will be necessary if the sewage has caused water damage. Whichever service you choose, inquire about their qualifications for dealing with raw sewage. A sewage cleanup job that is done poorly will result in even bigger hassles in the future.