Sanitary sewer overflows, or SSOs, play a significant role in the health of a community. Sanitary systems are responsible for containing and transporting raw sewage to treatment facilities. For one reason or another, these systems can sometimes overflow, which can wreak havoc on homes, businesses and communities.

There have been many attempts to address this issue. The Environmental Protection Agency has formed a community of people known as the Federal Advisory Subcommittee to address issues of overflowing raw sewage in varying communities. This group of members is made up of healthcare professionals, advocacy groups, state representatives and more in an effort to resolve the ongoing problem of SSOs.

Still, sanitary sewer overflows remain a problem in many homes, businesses and municipalities, and for that reason, it is imperative that individuals know the impact that contact with raw sewage can have on their health.

Health Implications Surrounding SSOs

Because sanitary sewer systems are responsible for carrying sewage to treatment facilities, it is understandable, then, that an overflow of these elements into the public square, homes, businesses and industries is of major concern.

Not only is contact with raw sewage unsanitary, it is highly dangerous. Sewer water contains a variety of bacteria and presents the threat of parasites, viruses, mold and fungi. Moreover, sewer water has disease-causing pathogens. All of this and more is a major cause for concern in regards to sanitary system overflows.

Pathogenic Threat

As previously mentioned, raw sewer water harnesses the ability to unleash harmful and deadly diseases on anyone that has direct contact with it. The following are a few of the types of pathogens one might expect to find in sewer water:

Viruses: Viruses replicate themselves within the cells of an organism. The types of viruses and the symptoms that can be encountered upon direct contact with sewage include diarrhea, meningitis, hepatitis, paralysis, common cold, fever, respiratory infections and pneumonia.

Bacteria: Bacteria is a type of cell that takes on many shapes. There is a form of bacteria that can actually be good for humans, but in the case of sewage, it is all bad news. The types of bacteria that can be found living in sewer water include salmonellosis, typhoid fever, troenteritis, cholera and bacillary dysentery.

Protozoan: Protozoans feed on other organic matter and can be parasitic or free-living. The types of protozoans that can be found in raw sewage include acute enteritis, giardiasis, gastroenteritis, dysentery, cryptosporidiosis and toxoplasmosis.

Bioaerosols: Bioaerosols are a subcategory of particles and are composed of living and nonliving elements. Examples of these are Legionnaire’s Disease and any type of allergic reaction, including asthma. These can easily be contrived from direct contact with sewer water.

Helminths: Helminths, simply put, are parasitic worms. These often manifest themselves in humans as abdominal pain, vomiting, restlessness, diarrhea, fever, weight loss, anorexia, insomnia, anxiety, coughing, chest pain and more.

Upon review of the aforementioned pathogens associated with contact with raw sewage, it is safe to say that the health risks that surround unchecked sanitary sewage overflows aren’t to be taken lightly. If a sewage event happens in your home, business or in your community, you must take caution and be sure to protect those that are most vulnerable around you.

If you, or someone you know, has come in contact with raw sewage or is manifesting the following symptoms, seek medical help, immediately:

  • Nausea
  • Abdominal Cramping
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Allergic Reactions
  • The Onset of or Worsening Asthma
  • Fever
  • Weight Loss
  • Muscle Aches
  • Chest Pain

Pathogenic Exposure

There are many ways that one may come into contact with contaminants from raw sewage and not know it. Sewage can end up in drinking water, recreational waters, basements, streets, by the ingestion of shellfish from contaminated areas or sources, and sometimes, even through inhalation.

How to Avoid Infection

In order to avoid contaminating yourself with sewage materials, it is important to use common sense and good hygiene practices while going about your daily routine.

Before eating, always make it a habit to wash your hands. When you do wash your hands, be sure to use soap and water and to lather for at least 20 seconds. Then, dry your hands with a paper towel.

When sewage backups occur, stay as far away from the threat as possible. Never touch raw sewage with your bare hands. If you must clean it up within your own home or residence, you must do so using appropriate protective gear, such as rubber gloves, boots and protective eye wear so as to prevent splashback.

When sanitizing surfaces in your home or business that have been affected by raw sewage, use 8 tablespoons of bleach per gallon to disinfect surfaces. Utilize open windows or fans to ventilate the affected area until it is dry. Throw away cloth or heavily soaked porous items that have been affected.

Restrict access to sewage to any people of special interest such as children, pregnant women, those with compromised immune systems and the elderly.

Animals that walk through sewage can track the pathogens already mentioned throughout your home, increasing the risk of human infection. Therefore, it is imperative that all animals be kept from roaming around the sewage-impacted area.

For the protection of the community, it is also wise to label any trash bags or items that have been affected by sewage before you set it out on the curb. Doing so will alert local garbage men and women to take caution when handling the affected bags and objects, and will prevent people from rifling through items that may appear to be salvageable.

Sanitary Sewage Overflows Pose Serious Risks to the Public

All in all, it is crucial that sanitary sewer overflows be handled immediately, and that the public protect themselves from its many devastations. However, because it isn’t always apparent when raw sewage has made its way into public waters or onto surfaces, it becomes up to each individual to take matters of their own health into their own hands.

To do this, each person must be sure to wash their hands before eating, to wash their hands according to proper protocol, to avoid sewage impacted areas and to wear proper protective gear if they are to be in direct contact with sewage.

If you, or someone you know, begin to display symptoms of having contracted a virus, illness, disease or parasite from ingesting sewage-containing elements, seek professional medical help, immediately.