The Dangers of Sewage Backup


When sewage enters your home it can cause a financial crisis, but that is nothing compared to the health dangers of a sewage backup. Many people fail to understand that sewage presents a definite hazard to anyone who comes into contact with it. Raw sewage endangers a home’s occupants and especially anyone attempting to clean up the mess.

What Dangers Can Sewage Backups Contain?

A toilet over-flow or main drain line burst can spread category 3 black water throughout your home. The sewage may contain bacteria, viruses, lawn-care chemicals, agricultural pesticides and other types of germs including E. coli, in addition to a multitude of natural waste by-products. Exposure can result from contact with your hands, eyes, respiratory breathing, or orally. The most common illnesses involve gastrointestinal (GI) distress or stomach flu, skin rashes, diarrhea and infections. Hepatitis A, B, and C viruses may also be present in sewage. Hepatitis affects the liver. While Hepatitis A (2 months to recovery) and B (six months to recovery) are curable, Hepatitis C is much more difficult to treat, and for most people it becomes a long-term, chronic condition.

Additional diseases associated with contact with sewage include:

  • Cryptosporidiosis: slight fever, diarrhea, stomach cramps
  • Salmonellosis: salmonella-based, cramping and diarrhea
  • Typhoid Fever: bacterial disease, weakness, coughing, high fever
  • Dysentery: caused by ingesting contaminated water, bloody diarrhea, cramps
the dangers of sewage backupSewage backup from toilet

Two Misconceptions Concerning the Dangers of Sewage Backups

Misconception number one is that the danger of sewage backup is limited to sewage that comes only from your home. Wrong! In most cases sewage backups involve both solid wastes and fluids that originated outside your home. These products can come from your neighbors’ homes or even from houses in your surrounding subdivision. They could even come from industrial businesses adjoining your residential area. No matter where it originated from, the bad news is that it is in your home and you now own it!

The second misconception is that if the water appears to be clear is it less dangerous. This is a false sense of security. Bacteria and viruses may be present in the water and the water still may appear to be clear. The same can be said for pesticides, fertilizers, and weed and grass killing chemicals. You really cannot tell exactly what dangers from sewage backups are present by just looking at the clarity of the water.

Major Causes of Sewage Backups

There are four main causes of main drain failures in residential homes and commercial buildings.

  1. A clog in the main drain system. Flushing items like facial tissue, diapers, paper napkins, and birth control products down the toilet are something that should never be done. These items don’t break down in water the way toilet tissue does and may result in a clog. Also, never pour grease or fat down any drain. These types of things should be placed in a can and disposed of along with the regular trash. Grease and animal fats can lay in drain lines and harden into a clog.
  2. Broken or Collapsed Lines. This is more common on older homes than newer ones, although you can’t rule out the possibility just because you live in a newer home. Newer homes may have used plastic sewer lines out in the yard, but in the old days sewer lines were made from materials like cast iron or clay-fired pipes. These products can and will break down over time. If an area of your yard appears to have sunken, and there is a main sewer line in the area, the line may have a dip in it, which could lead to an improper flow problem and result in sewage backing up into you home.
  3. Tree Roots. This is the big one when it comes to sewage backups. Tree roots will seek sources of water and will actually grow into pipes and cause holes or blockages. There have even been cases where the roots have grown around the sewer pipe and crushed it.
  4. Heavy Rainstorms and Flash Flooding. This event can send large volumes of water into sewage systems in a short period of time. This sudden influx of water can inundate sewer systems and cause backups. But it’s not just your homes that are susceptible, sewage backups can endanger private drinking wells and lakes and ponds on your own property or nearby properties.
sewage backup in bathtubSewage backup in bathtub

Are The Dangers of Sewer Backups Covered By Insurance?

Many times a homeowner’s insurance policy will cover the damage caused by sewage backing up into a home. If the problem was not caused by negligence and is reported in a timely manner, chances are you will be covered by insurance.

If a clogged or damaged sewer line caused the issue, you may have a policy rider that covers backup of sewer and drain. These riders generally cost around $100 per year and are well worth the additional cost.

Floods, water that flows across the surface of the ground and enter your home, are usually not covered by standard homeowner’s policies. This type of coverage is available through FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and their National Flood Insurance Program.

Sewage Backup Prevention Tips

Backups happen for all kinds of different reasons. Some may be out of your control, for others you can take steps to lessen the dangers.

  1. Grease disposal: never pour grease or oils down any drain.
  2. Toilets: never flush anything down the toilet with the exception of human waste and toilet paper.
  3. Drain Lines: have your main drain lines cleaned at least once a year, at around $100 it’s a bargain compared to a backup.
  4. Back-Flow Valves: have a qualified plumber install a sewage back-flow valve to your system. If a back-flow occurs the valve will close to stop any inflow of sewage.


Sewage Backups Are Dangerous

The dangers of sewage backups are more than just nasty, smelly deposits in your home or building. In my opinion, sewage should be considered to be more dangerous than mold. Mold may make you sick, but raw sewage will make you and anyone who comes into contact with it sick.

If left unattended for as little as 24 hours, the dangers of sewage backup can escalate to even more hazardous levels. Because of our modern waste removal systems here in the U.S., lives are being saved every day. However, any type of malfunction with these systems can result in severe sicknesses.

We are here to provide you with answers concerning the dangers of sewage backups. These issues must be addressed as soon as they are discovered to avoid further complications concerning your family’s health and the safe environment of your home. If you experience water damage in your home, get immediate, 24-hour assistance by calling 877-960-0491. Experienced professionals can answer questions and dispatch help to your home to start addressing any sewage backup problem that may occur right away. The call is free and so is the advice. Don’t delay!





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Written by Mark Huey.