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BUILDING DAMAGE ASSESSMENT & REPAIR
ASBESTOS IDENTIFICATION IN BUILDINGS
BIOLOGICAL POLLUTANTS in the HOME - EPA
BLACK MOLD, HARMLESS COSMETIC
CARPETING & INDOOR AIR QUALITY
CHIMNEY INSPECTION DIAGNOSIS REPAIR
CRAWL SPACE SAFETY ADVICE
DIRECTORY of MOLD / ENVIRONMENTAL EXPERTS
DISASTERS: BUILDING INSPECTION & REPAIR
DISINFECTING BUILDINGS with BLEACH
EFFLORESCENCE, Salts & White / Brown Deposits
FLOOR TILE ASBESTOS IDENTIFICATION
FREEZE-PROOF A BUILDING
GAS EXPOSURE EFFECTS, TOXIC
HEATING OIL EXPOSURE HAZARDS, LIMITS
HOME INSPECTOR DIRECTORY
INDOOR AIR HAZARDS TABLE
INSULATION INSPECTION & IMPROVEMENT
LEAD POISONING HAZARDS GUIDE
METHANE GAS SOURCES
MOISTURE CONTROL in BUILDINGS
MOLD ACTION GUIDE - WHAT TO DO ABOUT MOLD
MVOCs & MOLDY MUSTY ODORS
ODORS GASES SMELLS, DIAGNOSIS & CURE
OIL TANKS INSPECT LEAK TEST ABANDON REGS
OZONE for MOLD OR ODORS
PAINTS & COATINGS ODORS IN BUILDINGS
RENTERS & TENANTS GUIDE TO INDOOR HAZARDS
ROT, TIMBER ASSESSMENT
SAFETY for SEPTIC INSPECTORS
SEPTIC BACKUP REPAIR
METHANE GAS HAZARDS
SEPTIC & CESSPOOL SAFETY
SEWAGE CONTAMINATION in BUILDINGS
SINKHOLES, WARNING SIGNS
VENTILATION in BUILDINGS
VOCs VOLATILE ORGANIC COMPOUNDS
VOLTS / AMPS MEASUREMENT EQUIP
VOLTAGE MEASUREMENT METHODS
WATER BARRIERS, EXTERIOR BUILDING
WATER PUMPS, TANKS, TESTS, WELLS, REPAIRS
WELLS CISTERNS & SPRINGS
WINTERIZE A BUILDING
What to do in response to a septic or sewer backup into a building or in response to building flooding: this article explains how to respond to septic system or sewer backups in a building. Yes the photo of a toilet backing up at page top is disgusting. It's also unsanitary and can be a serious health hazard in a building.
Here we explain the inspection, cleanup and other steps necessary to sanitize a building that has suffered flooding or sewage-contaminated backups as well as steps to return the building drain, waste, vent system to operation. This article also explains how to stop a toilet from overflowing and it offers some first aid for toilet backups and other plumbing drain or sewer piping backup conditions.
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In this article series we explain the causes of & response to sewer or septic backups into buildings, the health hazards, testing, and cleanup of sewage backups, and the cure or prevention of future sewage or septic backup problems.
[Click any image for an enlarged, detailed version]
Just below in this article we give the first-response priorities & steps in a sewage spill or leak response.
Watch out: sewage spills contain contaminants that can cause serious illness or disease. Disease causing agents in raw sewage include bacteria, fungi, parasites, and viruses and can cause serious illnesses including Hepatitis A. (SEWAGE & SEPTIC CONTAMINANTS)
Step 1: Is the sewage-spill contaminated building safe to enter?
If a building has been flooded by sewage or wastewater there may be unsafe electrical wiring, bacterial and pathogen hazards, mold hazards, even unsafe mechanical systems.
Step 2: damage control for sewage backups & spills
If there are measures that can be taken to stop continued sewage entry or water spread through the building, such as stopping a TOILET OVERFLOW or even opening a door or window for fresh air or to reduce wastewater spread, do that.
Step 3: sewage backup or spill cleanup
Step 4: prevent a sewage backup recurrence
Disturbing as it may sound, we find that some buildings suffer chronic flooding, leaks, sewage backups and spills. It makes sense to do more than just clean-up a sewage spill: one needs to identify and repair the underlying problem that caused the sewage overflow, spill or backup.
Diagnose the cause of the sewage backup
The root cause of a sewage backup may be a simple single-event toilet overflow, a chronic drain clog (CLOGGED DRAIN DIAGNOSIS & REPAIR) or private septic system failure problem (SEPTIC DRAINFIELD FAILURE DIAGNOSIS), or even a natural disaster or area flooding.
If your building has had a septic or sewage system backup into the structure you will want to review this article and DRAIN & SEWER PIPING - where we discuss sewer line leaks, and also SEWAGE BACKUP PREVENTION.
Separately, at SEWAGE BACKUP TEST & CLEANUP we discuss how to test for bacterial or other pathogens in a building - tests that may be useful after a sewage spill cleanup in order to assure that the building is acceptably clean.
If the event that caused the sewage or septic backup into the building has also left the building drain system clogged (likely if the entire system was flooded), see BLOCKED DRAIN REPAIR METHODS to try clearing your blocked drain before going to more drastic measures. If you have had sewage back up and spill out of toilets into the building, cleanup is needed and you may face bacterial hazards.
The inspection for an underlying cause of chronic drain backups, toilet overflows, and sewage spills may need to include these less-direct causes:
This topic has been moved to a separate article: please see TOILET OVERFLOW EMERGENCY
Continue reading at SEWAGE CLEANUP STANDARDS - where we describe in more detail the steps in removing sewage & disinfecting & cleaning a building interior after a sewage backup or spill and where we provide documents with still more detail from experts on sewage spill remediation.
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What Makes Septic or Sewer Backup Wastewater Appear on Different Building Floors?
Question: can sewage or septic backups appear on upper building floors due to a bad drain line?
If you have a septic and the line is back pitched from the house to the tanks:
Is it possible for the backup to overflow the basement toilet and the 1st floor toilet? Or is it impossible for the backup to reach the main floor after the basement toilet overflows.
Is it possible for the main floor toilet to overflow and not the basement ?
Thanks in advance for your help, M.L.
Reply: Possible causes of septic or sewage backup
A competent onsite inspection by an expert who is familiar with septic and sewer systems usually finds additional clues that help accurately diagnose a problem with septic piping, backups, failures and overflows into the building. That said, here are some things to consider:
A septic system or a clogged sewer line, or a flooded sewer or septic system can certainly back up into a basement, crawl space, or other lowest floor of a building
A septic system (or even a sewer) draining out at basement level from a muilti-story house would not be expected to back up onto upper floors because it would find exit points first in the basement at toilets or other fixtures, and because it would be unlikely to develop enough pressure to force sewage out onto upper floors.
An exception to the point above would be the case of a building whose main drain is lower than a sewer or septic piping system. Such buildings use a pumping chamber to push wastewater to its destination.
If the septic or sewer pumping system failed and if the necessary check valves were not in place or were defective, sewage could back up to higher levels in the building What would more likely cause both sewage backup into a basement and onto upper floors in a building would be blocked system drains.
Follow-up from reader:
Just further clarification if you don't mind: i had a belly in my pipes and had a back up 3 times, 2 times for sure in the walkout basement and 1 time I believe it went to the floor above the walkout basement. I just wanted to know if that might have been the cause of the other floor or was it just coincidence that this happened during the same time as the other problem. Is it possible that this was the result of the belly in the pipes or just a random occurence ?
Reply: a belly or sag in sewer piping can cause partial and eventual complete drain blockage and sewer backups
Sewer backups may seem to be a random occurrence but in fact if we knew exactly what was going on with the drain, waste, vent system and the local sewer or septic system, there would be no backups attributed to just "chance".
A sag in a drain pipe can, over time, collect sediment, corrosion, and sewage that can lead to an eventual clog and backup. That's why plumbing codes specify that building drain piping should slope continuously with "horizontal" runs sloping at 1/8" to 1/4" per foot.
What can happen is that a partial blockage of a drain line accumulates more and more debris and becomes more and more solidified until a combination of a particularly large "dose" of solid waste, say feces and toilet paper, has trouble making it past the slow or partly blocked area. That in turn can lead to an actual sewer backup.
Question: Testing for illnesses related to sewage backups or sewage contamination: Leptospirosis, Typhoid Fever or Yersiniosis
Approximately 2 months ago I moved into a new house, and 1 week in there was a sewage leak into the backyard. All of the piping needs to be replaced but only a small section has been, so although it is not spilling onto the surface of the yard anymore, I believe it is still leaking into the ground under the surface.
My dog has been very ill since living here (vomiting, diarrhea, and is now developing skin lesions). The tests come up negative for Giardia, but he gets better when on antibiotics. As soon as he is off the antibiotics he relapses and it finally occurred to me this may be due to the fact that the incoming water is contaminated.
He has not been specifically tested for Leptospirosis, Typhoid Fever or Yersiniosis, which I plan on having done today. Is there anything else you feel I should have him tested for?
In regards to the water testing, do you know of a laboratory in the Sacramento, CA area? If so, I would greatly appreciate you providing me with their contact information. Would the Total Coliform test be sufficient, or is there further testing you would recommend?
Thank you in advance for your help. - Best, L.S.
L.S. these are questions to ask your veterinarian and your doctor. Having some experience with Typhoid fever I can mention that our doctor advised that it was very important to be sure that any treatment for Typhoid be continued until the doctor is sure that the treatment has been effective, and thence it is important to avoid re infection. An incomplete treatment for Typhoid, such as failure to complete an effective course of antibiotics, risks leaving behind a antibiotic-resistant strain that could make future treatment still more difficult.
While the physician with whom we consulted, [S.R. SmDA, Nov 2011] is convinced that the only vector for Typhoid fever is from eating [Typhoid strain of salmonella-] contaminated food, we have also read that a secondary vector might be possible via mosquitoes or flies in contact with sewage.
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