FAQ: Sewage Cleanup and Removal

Flooding from Hurricane Harvey distributed sewage contents. Read below for guidelines if sewage has leaked near you.

Should I try and clean up sewage myself?

No, not unless you are a professional.  Because sewage is rightly considered to be a biohazard, proper cleaning techniques and protection are required when dealing with sewage.  Several sewer cleaning companies discourage private citizens from cleaning their own septic waste, due to the risk of exposure, not just to bacteria and germs, but to bloodborne pathogens, sharps, and other hazardous chemicals.

Often when private citizens attempt to clean up their own septic, these individuals find that their cleanup was incomplete and moisture has seeped into the walls, under baseboards, and/or into cabinets.  Once inside these unwanted areas, this moisture will then become a serious mold problem.

Are there different types of sewage disposal?

Yes, restoring a sewage backflow is much different and easier than a freshwater sewage overflow situation.  Handling black water, which consists of sewage and water or old gray freshwater, requires a professional.

Are there different types of contaminated water?

Yes, there are three categories of contaminated water.  

Firstly, clean water is water from a treated source, like a broken water supply or leaking faucet. If left alone, this water is considered Category 1. If not immediately treated after mixed with sewage, this water can be contaminated at the level of either Category 2 or Category 3, depending on the time, temperature, and contact that the sewage has had with any surrounding contaminants.  

The second category of contaminated water is gray water, which is contaminated water that can cause discomfort and/or illness.  Examples of gray water come from washing machine overflow, dishwasher overflow, toilet bowl overflow, possibly with some urine mixed in but no feces present.  If left unattended, gray water can quickly enter into category three, which is black water.  

Black water is extremely contaminated, causing severe illness and/or death.  This category of contaminated water should be avoided and rectified as quickly as possible.  Examples of black water are flooding water via rivers and/or streams, water from beyond the toilet trap, water from toilet bowl with feces, and/or standing water that has begun to support microbial growth.

What could cause damage and require sewage cleanup?

Many outcomes could cause damage and require sewage cleanup, including toilet backflow, septic tank backflow, sump pump failures, flood drain backups, flooding of seawater, ground surface water, sewage pump breakup, sink and/or bathtub overflow, rising water from rivers and/or streams.

What do most cleanup services offer?

The majority of cleanup services perform the following services, including sewage cleanup, complete structural drying, decontamination, bio-hazardous cleaning and disposal, debris removal, deodorization, contents packed and stored, direct insurance company billing, and standards utilized to ensure a healthy environment.

Because I don’t have a septic system and do not live near sewage pipes or drains, I shouldn’t have anything to worry about, right?

No, sewage contamination can still be an issue for you.  Floodwater, even if it is not moving at this particular moment, absorbs any and all toxins, raw sewage, pesticides, animal feces, and/or parasites. Floodwater carries all of these contaminants with it as it moves along. Intentional contact with floodwater should be avoided because of the more than likely high contamination levels in the floodwater.  Any amount of exposure to floodwater has been linked to symptoms of the flu, intestinal problems, headaches, upset stomachs, as well as other health-related issues.

What if, in order to escape a flood-induced danger zone, an individual is forced to come into contact with contaminated water?

As footage from flooded areas has shown, individuals in different areas are not always able to avoid walking through contaminated water, in order for these individuals to reach safety.  Therefore, if you have been exposed to floodwater, for any amount of time, you should frequently wash their hands in order to prevent the spread of germs, inform a doctor of your wounds, and discourage children from playing in flood water or with toys that have been in, or near, flood water.  Also, it is vitally important to be current on your vaccines to prevent sickness during and after the presence of dirty water.

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