Sewage backup cause, prevention, & response questions & answers:
These questions & answers about sewage spills, sewage leaks & sewage contamination help in deciding what to do about these problems.
This article series explains how to deal with and test for sewage backup contamination, sewage contamination testing, inspection, and cleanup- remediation in residential and commercial buildings. If you have had sewage back up and spill out of toilets into the building, cleanup is needed and you may face bacterial hazards.
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If your building has had a septic or sewage system backup into the structure
see SEWAGE BACKUP, WHAT TO DO
In this article 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.
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The plumber that was servicing our water pipe said it was the Main Line where all water goes through toilet, washing ma, tub, etc. plus the tenants above us as well, my concern is the carpet.
The apt. did not want to replace the carpet after arguing with them about it. Instead they sent carpet cleaners which the carpet looks good on the outside but is there micro-filth on the inside? So should I have [the carpet] TESTED? - R.L. 2/4/2014
Frankly this sounds worrisome to me: if sewage water has soaked a carpet I'm doubtful that it can be safely cleaned; worse, leaving it in place invites visible or hidden mold contamination; and even when it's dry airborne pathogens can certainly rid dust particles into people's lungs &c.
One would also wonder how cleaning in place can reliably disinfect and clean through the entire thickness of carpeting and padding.
If you are going to live with such a questionable floor covering it might make sense to discuss testing it with an environtmental test lab; discuss the present state of the carpet and what tests would be most reliable. If the carpet had been still wet one might have used a bacterial swab but now, dry, I'm not sure what's the best approach;
What does your local health department say?
Example sewage cleanup guidelines that consider preserving such carpets (as one might do with a valuable area rug) call for removing and disinfecting and cleaning the carpeting and throwing the padding away, cleaning and disinfecting the floor, and using new padding.
Some such sewage spill guidelines are deficient if the floors were wet enough to send wastewater into building wall cavities or into ceiling cavities on lower floors. In such cases further demolition and cleaning are most likely required. See our article SEWAGE BACKUP, WHAT TO DO.
Also take a look at the recommended procedures for cleaning or replacing carpeting that has been soaked with sewage backup or overflow, found at SEWAGE CLEANUP STANDARDS.
And because mold contamination is a risk when carpeting has been wet you will want to read MOLD CONTROL, FLOOD RESPONSE. There you will note that for wall-to-wall carpeting, considering the problems of contamination, shrinkage, padding, and labor to remove, treat and reinstall over new padding, in our experience most insurance companies opt for immediate and complete removal and disposal of the carpeting.
(Aug 24, 2014) Janice said:
We had 6 inches of sewage and water in the basement. The basement was cleaned and the sewer pipe was repaired. Would any of the contaminates become airborne? If it was all localized to the basement will there be any respiratory issues on the first floor aside from the stench which is now gone?
If proper containment was not used during the basement cleanup andif mechanicals were not protected, such as heating or air conditioning ducts, registers, equipment, indeed it's possible for airborne water droplets or dust carrying sewage pathogens to contaminate those areas or surfaces.
If contaminants moved by air or by people tracking sewage into other building areas, sure there could be related respiratory or other health complaints.
And if the water from the sewage backup was not removed in 24-48 hours - such that all previously-wet basement components were thoroughly dried, there could be a hidden mold reservoir now bothering building occupants.
(Dec 8, 2014) william brouwer said:
if the soil is contaminated by black water within a raised foundation area with standing water, will such soil have to be removed in order not to pose a health hazard to the occupants. Intake for the havac is from the crawl space also.
IN my OPINION sewage contaminated soil under a building is a health hazard because of risk of movement of pathogens in building air as gases or dust particles.
As much contaminated soil as can be feasibly removed without undermining foundations or digging to china is removed, the space is sanitized, and a plastic ground cover installed to prevent further entrainment of contaminated dust into the building air.
Marie-Josee Bastien said:
2 weeks ago the main drain of the building where i live (i am a tenant) broke and about 1 foot of sewage water was dumped in the crawl space located about 3 feet under my apartment.
The crawl space is made of dirt and the only access to it are the traps located in the apartments (no windows or any opening in the basement other than those ones) The landlady refuses to have the cave inspected by professionnals to determine whether or not the dirt is contaminated or the structure has been affected by the flood.
My question is: does dirt filled with sewage water represent a health hazard for the occupants, especially since the only way any air can get out is inside the tenant's apartment. Must the dirt be removed?
IF sewage spilled on dirt the soil is contaminated certainly at least with bacteria and possibly other pathogens. Moisture droplets that become airborne during cleanup as well as dry dust particles from such soil, if they enter occupied space, are a health risk to occupants.
Standard cleanup procedures are described above at More Reading and include
Watch out also lest workers track unsanitary soils into the building interior. Also it's worth understanding that because there are usually up-draft convection air currents in buildings it is quite possible for airborne gases or small particles in a basement or crawl space to find their way into occupied spaces on upper floors of the same structure .
(Apr 6, 2015) V. Pierce said:
I had our septic system back up all over the bottom floor of our home. The insurance company will not paid to replace the tiled floor in the bathrooms and kitchen. I understand that the tile would usually not be contaminated by the category 3 water but there were cracks in the tile and the septic water got down in the cracks and contaminated the mastic and sat under the tile. Is there another way to get the contaminants out of my home other than getting rid of the tile?
If sewage seeped below the tile floor - which might be evident as loose tile or by seeing stains on the underside of the subfloor when viewed from below (cut some inspection openings if necessary) then a bacterial hazard is likely to remain in the home.
Your choices are to remove material, sanitize and replace flooring, sanitize all the exposed surfaces and take your chances (perhaps with some criteria on how to decide if further work is needed), or to attempt to seal both sides of the leaked-into flooring: from below with a sanitizer then a sealant and above with another layer of flooring. (Ugh).
Fundamentally: you cannot remove contaminants without removing them. The tautology means that simply waving a vacuum in the air or spraying one side of a floor does not remove contaminants from the multiple layers of materials.
(Aug 28, 2015) Eve said:
I have recently moved to a property and found the floor (chip board floating floor, which cannot be cleaned) is contaminated with urine and possibly faeces.
The flooring is to be changed by the landlord but my possessions have been in contact with it and I would like to know the exact nature i.e. if it is faeces or not. I want to have it tested in a laboratory. I'm in the UK. I realise you are based in the U.S.A. but do you know anywhere here where I could send samples to?
My housing association is not prepared to send samples off for testing. Also, the flooring is being changed Tuesday next week and Monday is a holiday here, so I will need to take samples before then.
Do you think I should literally take a piece of flooring up myself and put it in a sealed bag to be sent to a lab? I realise the bag will be sterile but will the results still be indicative of the contamination? Also what are the risks to my health? I would appreciate any help. Thanks.
A local environmental test lab can send a technician to your home to collect several representative environmental samples, perhaps using a sterile swab test. That would make more sense than carrying flooring or materials around and certainly you want to use a local test lab not one in another country.
The health risks are not something we can accurately guess from an e-text. In principle there could be bacterial or other pathogenic hazards.
20 Sept 2015 tawnya bickford said:
My basements we have no entrenched to is full of sewage clear to the floors in the house we walk on.
The landlord claimed its not sewage though you can see and smell poop and towlet paper at the surface.,
I need help our health department will not help because though we are in the same county they say not in there jurisdiction any help contact me 740 565 4126 myself boyfriend and daughter are very sick
Watch out: I agree that what you are describing what sounds very unhealthy and unsafe.
If your health department says your home is not within their jusrisdiction, ask them in whose jurisdiction you live. It seems unlikely that wherever you live there would be no one admitting responsibility.
If you reach that unlikely dead-end then you may need to ask for help from a family protective service agency in your city or state and you may need to move to an emegency shelter.
Put it in writing:
If you need to get help with writing do so, but be sure that your concerns have been given in writing by letter to your landlord and to your health department. Often people find it more difficult to ignore a legitimate health and safety worry when they know that it has been documented.
Keep us posted on what happens.
(Jan 18, 2016) Suresh Kumar Bole said:
I am constructing a house opposite (at about 30 feet distance ) a big passing drain with sewage collected from residential and industrial areas. We dug a bore and lifting water from 20 ft depth. the water is foul smelling and dirty. how can we use this water for domestic purposes like washing clothes, floors, utensils etc.
I wouldn't use the water you describe for ANY purpose without testing the water to identify its contaminants and then selecting an appropriate treatment system. It is possible that your water well borehole is unacceptably close to the sewer drain line. That means that even if a current leak in the drain is repaired, people will be at risk of illness from contaminated water that can occur again when future drain leaks happen.
(Feb 12, 2016) James sumner said:
I bought mobile home on contract large down payment.The owner fail to inform me sewage was running out on ground under mobile.
as it was not lived in for some time I thought odor was from a pack rat nest I decovered.I found out within days it was a broken main line to sewer. This was sesonal home.while fixing it it looked like it was that was for many years. I am disabled Veteran and I am now sick.I wonder why all this was hidden from me someone had to know.
James, I can't say for sure why someone would lie, cheat, steal, or risk the health of a future occupant of a home they are selling, I agree that it's wrong, immoral, and mean.
You want to focus on what to do now to make yourself and your home healthy. You might want a few sterile swab tests of the home interior surfaces to screen for sewage bacteria - ask your local testing lab for advice. And the area beneath the home needs to be cleaned and sanitized.
(Feb 16, 2016) Lisa said:
Purchased home built in 1960 - 7 months ago with a septic tank. 5-10 days after moving in I was covered with horrific rash. Multiple diagnosis, physicians, and prescriptions....still no relief.
Raised & leveled pier & beam home to provide access....heavy rain 2 months ago....saw green colored substance in standing water all around, and under the house. Septic service emptied tank described as overflowing. Ground never dried, and water began pooling around front of the house. Line to septic busted, and leech line clogged up.
Plumbers ran all new larger pipes to septic, and leech line across the property. Ground under the house still moist....with furry pup that carries filth everywhere (unintentionally) but really concerning as my itching rash continues. I'm scrambling to figure out where to start, and would greatly appreciate any advice.
Start by asking your doctor if there is a likely connection between your home environment and the health concerns you cite.
Also search InspectApedia for WHEN TO HIRE AN EXPERT for help in deciding if hiring an expert onsite hygienist or other technician is appropriate.
(Mar 16, 2016) Anonymous said:
I'm living in a house with.my family since May of last year and since Sept I have reported mold one of the maintenance men have reported it 6 months later they finally came out and she wanted him to put sheet rock over the mold and dry rotted wood also in my master bathroom there's green,black and yellow mold.
I also reported when you flush the toilet you can here it running under the house and the floor she still hasn't sent anyone I've sent her pictures and the house smells of poo
I'm pissed off severely and I paid rent now I feel dumb.
Your text describes improper "repair" of mold contamination and unsanitary plumbing. Putting drywall on top of mold-contaminated existing walls leaves a potentially harmful, even dangerous, mold reservoir in the home where it may still affect occupants.
Check with your health department.
Search InspectApedia.com for TENANT MOLD ADVICE for more suggestions.
2016/04/12 Sean said:
Is your landlord allowed to have an exposed septic tank inside of your apartment less than 25 feet from your sleeping quarters? And it resently had a leak in the exposed pipe that lead out of the apartment
Sean I'm not sure what you mean by "exposed septic tank". A septic tank that is visible is not necessary improper in any way.
A septic leak that sends effluent to the ground surface or into a building is unsanitary and would be prohibited by local health codes in most jurisdictions in most countries.
In the U.S. and many other countries, state or provincial laws generally require that a landlord has to keep the apartment, house, or building safe and habitable (or "livable" at all times.
Tenants have a clear right to a safe, sanitary, habitable living unit. (Note that condominium *owners* are not protected by these same laws as a condo owner is not a "tenant" under the law, even though there may be commons areas such as septic systems that are not being properly maintained. However health laws prohibiting sewage discharge to the ground surface still apply.)
2016/04/12 Lilirishgirl68 said:
I live in a rent house and after detecting standing water in our back yard, maintenance discovered that the sewer pipe had come apart and was leaking raw sewage into the crawl space under the house. He stated it didnt need to be cleaned up, that it would just absorb into the ground.
The house always smells like sewer no matter what I use to clean with.
The toilet continues to flush sluggishly and if can be heard draining in the bathroom drain.
Our roof also leaks in several areas, can be seen sagging and mold is growing in the furnace area and 2 closets. Not to mention the rotted wood around the edge of the roof that harbors wasps.
What can we do? We live in a very small to w n where there are no building inspectors and rentals are very hard to come by. The landlord is aware of these problems but isn't concerned.
Lili I can't assess the actual risk to you from just this e-text, but if you are confident that there are indoor and outdoor health hazards in your rental home and if the property owner is not acting on them you may need to get outside help from your health department. Use the search box just above to find HEALTH DEPARTMENT HELP for RENTERS for help that will address the items you cited.
(Apr 23, 2016) Lynette said:
We have moved from our rented home due to raw sewage exploding from the council pipes, & contaminating the indoor areas. Most of the house was affected & a cleaning team removed carpets & underlay then cleaned the concrete with bleach. They used a similar product to clean our whitegoods eg washing machine, clothers dryer etc & also our dining table etc - all of which were standing in effluent.
The entire house smelled of sewage. Thank you so much in anticipation. Living a nightmare :-(
Cleaning with bleach, at proper dilution, can be an effective sanitizing step following a sewage spill.
I cannot know from just your question whether or not the cleaning was effective nor whether or not using your items is now safe. But I can suggest how I would proceed in that case.
You cannot assume that items exposed in an area of sewage contamination are safe and sanitary just because they were above the level of the spill. For example, if such items were left exposed during a sewage spill cleanup it is possible that airborne droplets of sewage contaminated water or even sewage-contaminated dust contacted those items. They ususally need to be cleaned.
I would find a local testing lab who can test for sewage contaminants.
From that lab you should be able to pick up a sufficient number of sterile swab kits along with instructions on how to collect surface samples for lab analysis. I would then test the surfaces of the most-suspect or most-critical items that should have been cleaned, concentrating too on items that might be hard to clean effectively. Test those surfaces. Your test lab may also have additional suggestions.
Keep us posted.
(May 3, 2016) Shax said:
I was wondering if anyone can help.
Our sewage pipe has been leaking under the garage floor- for the past two years. Plumber clearly didn't know what he was doing.
What's the best way to deal with the aftermath. The pipe is dealt with and the leak has stopped. What can we do next?
Any advice welcome.
Baffled in Bordentown is where I am with this question, Shax. Was there sewage leakage into the garage or just below the slab? Are there odors? There may be cleanup required, or none if there was no sewage entry into the garage. If trhere are sewage odors some cleaning and sealing could be in order.
I doubt (OPINION) that it'd be economically justified to even think about tearing up the slab.
(May 17, 2016) Allison said:
A few months back, my elderly parents had a major sewer backup in their basement that they'd been unaware of for several weeks before it was discovered. Horrible mess. Got in the plumbers and sanitation workers to fix and clean up. Talking with my mom, I found out she gave my nephew a window-mounted air conditioner that had been stored in that area of their basement, but had no actual physical contact with the mess.
However, I'm concerned that airborne microbes may have infiltrated the air conditioner, and that if my nephew hooks it up for his apartment, he could be putting himself at risk (like a Legionnaire's thing?). My family thinks I'm overly concerned. Any opinion? Thanks for your help!
It's a reasonable concern to raise, as airborne droplets and dust in a sewage spill area can carry bacteria or other pathogens onto nearby surfaces.
I'd be less worried if the window A/C unit had been carefully wrapped or moved to protect it from cross-contamination.
You might want the unit to be tested (sterile swab) for bacterial contamination, as you don't want to grow more bacteria in the condensate handling or other wet areas of the unit and you don't want to blow suspect air on building occupants.
Legionnaire's disease is a specific infection separable from sewage backups.
(Oct 25, 2016) maccido said:
Pls i need ur advice, I rent in a house where my bedroom wall is directly behind a soak sewage. D wall is always wet
This sounds terrible. Sewage leaking into a wall cavity means there are going to be bacterial and other contaminants in the living area: possible causes of serious illness. In addition the water is going to cause a mold contamination problem.
That is not a safe nor healthy environment. Depending on where you live, most rental property laws require that the landlord provide safe, habitable housing.
Notify the landlord both orally (immediately) and in writing. If no action is taken you'll need to ask your health department for help and you'll probably have to move out - at least for a time, since a wet soaked wall contaminated with sewage is going to need to be opened, demolished, the cavity cleaned and disinfected, and then repaired.
(Nov 4, 2016) Lori said:
We bought a new construction home the end of April. I noticed moisture while my daughter was taking a shower Wednesday before last. My husband went into the crawlspace and discovered the drain from our upstairs bathroom was pouring out in a steady stream into the crawlspace under the vapor barrier.
We promptly called the builders representative ND he came out the next morning. He had a plumber come out who told me that he would return he next day to repair the leak. While cleaning out my closetime for the plumber to make the repair I discovered the carpet was wet and the baseboard that is painted white was discolored brown.
The builder has not returned to my home since. The leak is the result of a subcontractor driving a screw through the pipe while installing the microwave. So, there's a hole in my closet wall. Nothing was done to disinfect the carpet or dry it. No disinfection was done at all. There is a hole over my kitchen stove where the mold is visible.
When I contacted them again today they said the subcontractor as 72 hours from today to send someone out. Is my family safe?
Lori I can't assess your family's safety by a simple e-text, but certainly if the interior of your home is being flooded by wastewater there are potentially serious risks of bacterial hazards as well as mold contamination. Typically if wet areas are not cleaned and dried within 24-48 hours the risk of costly mold contamination becomes significant.
OPINION: If it were my home and if the builder who is obligated to fix the leaks is not going to do so immediately, including any necessary cleanup and dry-out, I'd find a plumber to perform whatever emergency repairs were needed and bill the contractor as appropriate for emergency service that was required.
(Nov 21, 2016) Linda Thomas said:
We just found out that our sewage line under our house in the crawl space had ruptured and human waste has been collected under our home. We have called a plumber but what I need to know are we at any health risk from it inside out home.
You are at some health risk but I cannot estimate it. Sewer gas or bacteria-contaminated microdroplets, or bacteria-contaminated fine dust can enter the living space above a crawl space in theory.
How much such dust actually moves up from the crawl area depends on building specifics such as temperatures, building height, building ventilation, and the number of openings (including very small ones) between crawl space and occupied space above.
In a case of serious concern I'd put the crawl space under negative pressure with respect to the upstairs. A pro would do this by installing one or more fans simply blowing "out" from the crawl area. I do NOT want fans sucking outdoor air into the crawl space, as that may create other moisture problems.
So it may be necessary to seal up crawl space vents and openings except where fans are blowing out.
(Nov 30, 2016) Aaron Dockery said:
I just discovered my bath drain is leaking beneath my trailer.
The manager of my park said if I don't fix it by the end of the month she will call the health department.
White I understand the urgency for septic, would the health department even be concerned? Is this even a health risk? I plan to have it fixed but I was hoping to wait until the first of the month.
Aaron, your park manager is probably correct, depending on the laws or building codes where you live. In most jurisdictions it is not permitted to spill wastewater from tubs, sinks, nor toilets onto the ground, principally because of the health hazards involved.
Perhaps you can perform an emergency repair that's simple - depending on the leak type. For example there are some quick-fix (not permanent repair) products that wrap around and stop leaks in a leaky drain pipe.
(Dec 6, 2016) Gloria Bates said:
My 3rd. floor apartment had a sewer backup whereby the toilet backed up into the bathtub.
The plumbers fixed it and the superintendant mopped it up. After they left at midnight, I cleaned it up with vinegar and water.
The bathroom floor is vinyl and the flood went out into the laminate flooring in the hall. The hall flooring is now buckling and the bathroom door won't close.
This was 5 days ago. Should I be doing something else? I'm 77 and have arthritic joints which makes it hard for me to clean.
I'd probably have used a stronger disinfectant that contained a dilute bleach solution to clean up after a sewage backup.
If the backup had occurred ONLY into the tub then you'd not see a buckling floor.
So it sounds as if
1. the sewage spill entered the floor and possibly lower wall cavities
2. the bathroom is not sanitary - there may be infection or disease risk remaining
3. the floor has been water-damaged.
You should not attempt this cleanup. It deserves a professional who knows how to contain dust and debris and to make the job sanitary and safe.
(Nov 13, 2016) Anonymous said:
Sewage backed up into our house and spread across about 150sqft of carpet w/ cement slab beneath.
Carpet ripped out and Servpro did its thing w/in 72 hrs. Some sewage escaped down a hole at base of bathtub (both bathtub and toilet overflowed w/ raw sewage).
How long into the future would any dry particles from the sewage potentially create health problems for us, and what would be the common illnesses that may derive from such exposure?
(Dec 14, 2016) Nancy said:
We recently had 6 inches of sewer backup in our basement and the cleanup crew could not come for 4 days in which time my air conditioning could not be run so there was high humidity due to 29 degree heat in the house. My ceiling tiles have taken on moisture and I am concerned that they contain possibe airborne contaminants from the sewer backup.
Should I be concerned about those ceiling tiles? As well my vacuum was sitting in the sewer water and had sat in it for those 4 days is it able to be sanitized or has the bacteria now spread thoughout my machine?
Dry particles from sewage cleanup can include bacteriall-contaminated dust or dust with other pathogens, perhaps viruses.
After a sewage backup cleanup it would make sense to have an inspection and some simple contamination tests performed both in the work area and in other areas close-by where there could have been sewage or droplet or dust cross-contamination. That'll tell you if additional cleanup and disinfection are in order.
2017/01/02 Jammel said:
Who do I call to come test my home to make sure it was cleaned well & it's Hazmat free after a septic backup?
I live in Inkster, MI
Good question, Jammel
You may get free advice from your local health department,
You may be able to get a copy of tests and inspections performed by the independet expert hired by the cleanup company how did the sewage backup cleanup
You might be best served by a paid inspection and testing by an industrial hygienist or other indoor environmental expert whom you hire from your local area.
At any inspectapedia.com page top you will find a menu of links from which you should choose EXPERTS DIRECTORY to find an expert who may offer what you need.
Typically the professional will review the case history, inspect the areas where the sewage backup occurred, and the extent of work, followed by an inspection of other areas of the building. Typically swab tests are taken to allow a check for unacceptable levels of bacteria left on representative Building Services. Of course you're on site expert will have her own opinions about exactly what needs to be done.
Continue reading at SEWAGE CONTAMINATION in BUILDINGS - home, or select a topic from closely-related articles below, or see our complete INDEX to RELATED ARTICLES below.
Or see SALVAGE BUILDING CONTENTS
Or see SEWAGE CLEANUP STANDARDS
Or see SEWAGE & SEPTIC CONTAMINANTS we list the pathogens and contaminants commonly found in sewage and in sewage backup waters.
Or see HEALTH DEPARTMENT HELP for RENTERS if your rental home has unsanitary or unsafe conditions that are not being addressed properly
Or see SEWAGE BACKUP, WHAT TO DO
Or see Step 6. FLOOD DAMAGED BUILDING CLEAN-UP if you need general guidance following a flood
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