Dangers of Black Water

Here in Coachella Valley, one of the worst types of flooding that we see is from groundwater and sewage back up, which we call black water.  Black water is particularly dangerous because it can be filled with toxic microbes and hazardous materials, making clean up difficult. 

Water damage in the home is typically categorized in three levels, from least dangerous to most concerning. 

  • Category 1: Clean water 

The easiest to clear out and recover from, although mold is always an issue if you can’t get everything dried within 24-48 hours of water exposure.

  • Category 2: Gray Water 

This is water that is slightly contaminated. Typically from leaks in a shower, washing machine or dishwasher.

  • Category 3: Black Water 

Highly contaminated, and can lead to illness, infection, even death.

The EPA describes black water as “any waste from toilets or urinals.” But blackwater can also come from a leak in your kitchen sink. Many people don’t think about the things that go into kitchen sinks, but the grease, food bits, and even raw meat debris that gets washed down can be carrying all kinds of bacteria. Basically, black water is what we imagine when we think of sewage.

One of the most common sources of black water contamination is from toilets overflowing. Lots of things can cause a clogged toilet from a poorly placed toy train, to the ubiquitous “flushable” wipes that are anything but flushable, and commonly cause chaos in the pipes. But flood water is also considered black water as it will have large quantities of feces, heating oil, agricultural and industrial waste, bacteria, and any number of chemicals. 

I feel like it should go without saying that when you have water damage from black water, you should not attempt to clean it yourself. But you’d be surprised how many people just get out the bucket and mop, a bit of bleach, and figure they can take care of it and save themselves some money. This is not a situation to take lightly. A bit of bleach…a gallon of bleach, will not sanitize this kind of befoulment. And you’re taking your life and health, as well as the health of anyone living in the home, into your own hands. 

The diseases you can contract from exposure to black water, or to items that have been contaminated by it, can include (but aren’t limited to):

  • Acute Respiratory Illness – causes breathlessness, wheezing, chest tightness, pneumonia, bronchitis, and croup.
  • Gastroenteritis – often called stomach flu, typically includes diarrhea, stomach cramps, nausea or vomiting, and sometimes fever.
  • Infections of the eyes, ears, nose, throat, and skin
  • Hepatitis – symptoms are fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, light-colored stools, joint pain, and jaundice.
  • Tetanus – also known as lockjaw, causes jaw cramping, painful muscle stiffness all over the body, trouble swallowing, headache, fever and sweating, changes in blood pressure and fast heart rate, and seizures.

And worse!

As with any water damage, time is not on your side. The faster you start the clean up process, the better your outcome. Pathogens love the food sources they find in spades in the construction materials used to build your house. Waiting precious hours to decide what to do next, can be the difference between saving some things and replacing everything. These microorganisms (which start growing in the ideal combination of water, humidity, stagnant air, and a food source) can make you sick either by inhaling them or getting them on your skin. So make sure you aren’t in the contaminated area without protective clothing, goggles, and a respirator.

At Distinctive Restoration, we don’t shy away from black water clean up, despite these hazards, and the advantages to hiring a company like us to do the remediation, cleanup, and restoration is that you know it’s being done correctly and quickly. And since time is the enemy, “quickly” is a really important component of this winning combination. You don’t want to find yourself needing a “do over” for work that was poorly done the first time – not when everyone’s health is riding on it being expertly sanitized, with no place for mold to take root. Water damage from black water can be a nightmare, but if it’s not taken care of correctly, the after effects will be felt for months, and even years later.