Raw sewage left untreated contains a variety of pathogens, chemicals and nutrients – many of which pose a serious health risk. Additionally, research shows billions of gallons of raw sewage flow into waterways every day, putting the health of millions of Americans at risk. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that up to 3.5 million people fall ill from swimming in water contaminated by sewage overflows each year.
When sewage backs up into the home, the overflow leaves behind germs on the surfaces with which it’s been in contact. The degree of danger depends on how long the sewage was in contact with a surface, the type of materials contaminated by sewage and how long the occupant was exposed to the sewage. Left untreated, exposure to sewage could leave you with gastrointestinal (GI) distress, hepatitis, skin rashes or infections. In extreme cases, sewage can also contain rat urine, which could lead to Weil Disease – which can result in liver and kidney damage if not treated and can be fatal.
While sewage germs are rarely airborne, in an emergency it’s important to seal off any backups until a professional can rectify the situation. If you must handle raw sewage to clean, always use protection, including rubber gloves, eyewear, long pants and a long-sleeved shirt. If available, a breathing apparatus is highly recommended.
If you discover a backup, remember:
- Contact your warranty service provider and/or a local professional about the situation.
- If there is standing water near electrical appliances or outlets, turn off the power to that location.
- Do not flush toilets or drain sinks. If you must continue using sinks, plug the drain or use a bucket until the drains have been cleared.
- Keep children and pets away from the sewage.
- Wash your hands immediately after coming into contact with raw sewage and never touch it without gloved hands.
- If your home has a septic system, contact the local health department for advice on how to properly dispose of the water/sewage.
- Contact a professional to clean up large jobs to ensure you eliminate the possibility of health risks.