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The Invisible Hazards of Wastewater

Think about what you put down your drains everyday. While it’s not the most pleasant of topics to contemplate, it’s important to recognize the waste that sewer lines transfer away from your home. Wastewater may contain bacteria, viruses, parasites, chemicals, detergents and soaps, and other solid materials such as food waste, microplastics, and toilet paper. We’ll discuss some of the common hazards in wastewater in the sections below.


Bacteria

When you think of Salmonella and Escherichia coli (E. coli), food safety may come to mind first. Salmonella is known to be present in uncooked poultry items such as eggs, chicken, and turkey. Vegetables and uncooked meat may contain E. coli. Washing food items or if a family member is ill with one of these bacteria could introduce them into the sewer line (World Health Organization, 2006). Then, if the sewer line is overflowing due to a clog, the microorganisms may come back in the house, potentially infecting other family members. Salmonella and E. coli infections can cause diarrhea, vomiting, and abdominal cramping (World Health Organization, 2006).


Viruses

Just like bacteria, viruses can find their way into the wastewater system. If someone in the house is sick with the flu, human excrement can contain viruses from the ongoing infection (World Health Organization, 2006). Recently, you may have read news articles tracking COVID-19 in wastewater plants to find outbreak areas (Daughton, 2020). Wastewater backing up can re-introduce viruses back into the home, leading to other family members becoming ill. Viruses can cause respiratory illnesses, vomiting, and diarrhea when infection occurs (World Health Organization, 2006).


Parasites

Parasites may be present in the soil around a sewer line as some species will eat nearby plant and tree roots. While some are harmless to humans, there are a few soil-transmitted helminths that are present in the soil that could cause sickness (Center for Disease Control & Prevention, 2020). If a sewer line is broken or has intruding roots, these parasites may enter the line and could be present in a sewer line backup into the household.


Chemicals, Detergents, Soaps

Household cleaners could be present in the backed up wastewater that entered through floor drains, toilets, and sinks. While it may be diluted from the rest of the water and waste that has entered the sewer line, nobody wants toilet bowl cleaner or laundry detergent backing up in their living room with the rest of the wastewater! These household cleaning agents can also lead to chemical burns on skin which can require medical attention (Yin, 2017).


A functioning sewer line is very important to maintain a healthy household. It removes hazardous waste from your residence and is necessary to maintain your health and hygiene. Clogged or backing up sewer lines could lead to an environment where bacteria can grow and lead to infection later on if the wastewater is re-introduced to the household. Blade cleaning or hydro jetting the sewer line can remove blockages that cause sewer line backups. Sewer line cleanings and checkups can prevent future backups and clogs and keep your family safe.


Sources

Center for Disease Control & Prevention. 2020, October 27. Parasites - Soil-transmitted helminths. https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/sth/index.html


Daughton C. G. (2020). Wastewater surveillance for population-wide Covid-19: The present and future. The Science of the total environment, 736, 139631. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.139631


World Health Organization. (‎2006)‎. Guidelines for the safe use of wastewater, excreta and greywater in agriculture and aquaculture. World Health Organization. https://apps.who.int/iris/handle/10665/78265


Yin, S. (2017). Chemical and Common Burns in Children. Clinical Pediatrics, 56(5_suppl), 8S-12S. https://doi.org/10.1177/0009922817706975


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