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  • Writer's pictureJustin H. Joe, Ph.D., CIH, CSP, CPE and Paula Shearer

Illnesses and Sewage Exposure

Updated: Nov 18, 2022

Sewage water can be toxic. It can carry viruses, bacteria, pesticides, fungi, and parasites. Each year there are over two million sewage-related illnesses.

The Dangers in Sewage Water

Water intrusions damage our property and create headaches, sometimes quite literally, especially when flooding is involved. There are three classifications of floodwaters. They are clean water, grey water, and black water.

Blackwater is hazardous and includes any water from sewage. This can be from toilets, sewage lines, or floodwaters. Raw sewage contains urine and feces. All raw sewage is contaminated with microbes and many pathogens (viruses, mold, bacteria, fungi), which cause human disease.

According to the National Library of Medicine, sewage water may contain millions of bacteria per milliliter (.033814 ounces). With five milliliters in a teaspoon, that means there are billions of high-risk biological pollutants posing a significant threat to our health from just an overflowing toilet.

Black water can also include soil, heavy metals, chemicals, and petroleum products which might pose health risks to people and pets.

Common Bacteria and Viruses Found in Sewage

A variety of bacteria and viruses are found in blackwater. Some common strains are:

  • E. coli – A dangerous bacteria usually found in the human digestive tract and one of the most common contaminants in sewage. The pathogenic strains can cause cramping, vomiting, severe watery or bloody diarrhea, and dehydration.

  • Campylobacter – This bacterium causes the most common diarrheal illness in the United States. Symptoms of exposure include abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, cramping, bloody stool, and fever.

  • Fecal Streptococci – Commonly found in our intestines and lower GI tract. These bacteria can cause group B strep, a serious illness, in newborns and adults with chronic medical conditions such as diabetes or liver disease.

  • Enterococci - These group D streptococci have the ability to survive and grow under some extreme conditions. The species can cause urinary tract infections, meningitis, endocarditis (a heart infection), and a variety of other infections.

  • Salmonella - The harmful bacterium strains are aggressive and can cause Typhoid Fever or Paratyphoid Fever. Symptoms include diarrhea, stomach cramps, high fever, weakness, and vomiting. Some strains can spread from the intestines to the bloodstream, becoming severe for some and requiring hospitalization.

  • Shigella – One of the most common pathogenic bacteria that lead to dysentery. Symptoms of exposure include fever, stomach cramps, and bloody diarrhea.

  • Hepatitis A – A severe and highly contagious virus causing liver disease. Symptoms include nausea, abdominal pain, jaundice, diarrhea, fatigue, and fever.

  • "Stomach Flu” Viruses – Viral gastroenteritis is caused by numerous viruses found in black water. Symptoms include vomiting, watery diarrhea, abdominal cramps, fever, and headache.

  • Norovirus – A leading cause of pandemic and epidemic gastroenteritis (intestinal infection) outbreaks with many genotypes identified in sewage. The virus spreads very easily and quickly. Symptoms are nausea, stomach pain, diarrhea, and vomiting.

How To Clean Sewage

Whether sewage comes up through your floor drain or backs up in the sink or toilet…you have a hazardous situation in your home. Make it clear to your family that no one should enter the affected area.

Hire a contractor to remove the blackwater and contact an environmental testing company like BNF Consulting. We can help you identify the big problems you don’t see, like pathogenic microorganisms left behind to cause disease and provide you with a remediation plan.

Let BNF Consulting restore your peace of mind. You can contact us with questions or make an appointment at 914-297-8335 or


About The Author

Justin H. Joe, Ph.D., CIH, CSP, CPE, is a Certified Industrial Hygienist and a principal consultant of BNF Consulting, Inc. Dr. Joe graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with Ph.D. and MS degrees in nuclear engineering. Dr. Joe has provided industrial hygiene consulting as a core function with his diverse background of experience and education.



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