Health Effects of the Different Types of Water Damage

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There are different types of water damage resulting from a variety of causes and in remarkably varying intensity or severity. One thing is common despite all of these differences – water damage can be a significant source of health problem if let alone. Whether the water damage was brought about by monsoon rains, inclement weather systems, faulty water pipes or fixtures, or even problems in the plumbing system, water that has been left standing for a significantly long period of time can lead to a reduction in the quality of indoor air, the aerosolization of unpleasant scent molecules, and the growth and proliferation of molds which, in turn, can lead to the airborne transmission of respiratory disease-triggering spores.

Understanding the different types or forms of water damage is crucial to the determination of the best possible course of action to be taken. Like all things, different forms of water damage pose different challenges that also require vastly different approaches to mitigation, repair, and restoration. Generally, the common forms of water damage include the following:

  • Clean water damage from appliance leaks
  • Dirty water damage from plumbing issues
  • Black water damage from flooding
  • Bathroom-based water damage, and
  • High indoor humidity

Clean Water Damage

When there is a leak on your household appliances such as refrigerator, washing machine, and dishwasher as well as other water-related devices like hot water systems, sinks, and basins the water damage is more or less safe to human health. This is because the water that will come out from any of these equipment or fixtures are relatively clean, meaning they do not contain harmful microorganisms.

At the very first sign of a water problem, you need to immediately shut off the main water valve or the valve that supplies water to the affected device or appliance. Clean the area thoroughly and make sure to have it completely dried up. This is to preclude the growth of molds which usually begin within the first 24 to 48 hours after the water has affected the surface. To make sure that the area is completely dried, you can use the dehumidifier mode of your air conditioning unit. An electric fan can also be used to facilitate the faster evaporation of moisture. Make sure to switch off the electrical main if you are going to work with water.

If the problem is the carpet or any other fabric material, you can remove it outside and attempt to remove as much water as you can. If you have a wet vacuum, use it to draw out water. Let it air dry. However, for best results, you can call for the services of a water damage restoration company or even a carpet cleaning service. It is important to make sure that the carpet is completely dry before you can bring it inside your house.

Dirty Water Damage

In cases where the water damage is caused by plumbing issues, you have to be very careful in attempting to clean the mess. This is because dirty water will already be contaminated with a variety of microorganisms which, in addition to the risk of mold growth and spore formation and aerosolization, can bring serious health threats to you or any member of your family. Dirty water damage often results from a failure of the sump pump or an overflowing toilet. Use appropriate protective gear when working in situations like these. You will need rubber boots, thick non-porous gloves, long pants and long-sleeves shirt, goggles, and face mask. You need to remove as much water as you possibly can. An industrial grade water pump may help you remove the water if there is simply too much of it. Upon cleaning and drying, make sure to disinfect the affected area with industrial-strength disinfectants. This will kill all remaining microorganisms in the affected surfaces.

Black Water Damage

Considered the most dangerous kind of water damage to work with, black water or floodwater is already saturated with a lot of contaminants. You are talking not only about microorganisms but also raw sewage and harmful, often toxic, chemical wastes. It is imperative that only professionals manage these kinds of water damage. If in case you get in contact with black water, you should rinse the body part immediately with warm water and vigorously wash it with soap before rinsing it with hot water. If in case you are outside and do not have access to clean water and soap, a bottle of alcohol or even vinegar may do the trick even temporarily.

If there is floodwater in your house or your office, it is imperative that you remove as much water as you possibly can but without exposing yourself to the floodwater itself. So, think safety. For this purpose, you may need extractors, water pumps, or even a wet vacuum to remove the water. Using dehumidifiers and air movers will help facilitate the complete drying of the affected area. After all the water removal, cleaning, and drying, you also need to purify the air to get rid of any lingering harmful molecules that may have gone airborne. Since black water damage poses significant threat to health and safety, it is best to call for the services of a dedicated water damage removal and restoration company.

You should understand the notoriety of flood water in terms of mold growth and spore formation. Molds themselves are not harmful. However, the spores they produce tend to get airborne and can get lodged into the inner surfaces of the airway passages. For a healthy individual, this can result in a nagging cough, throat irritation, or even sneezing. However, for an individual who has allergies or asthma, even minute amounts of airborne spore particles can trigger a life-threatening asthma attack that, if unmanaged, can lead to severe respiratory acidosis, difficulty breathing, and death.

If moisture has not been completely removed from cracks, crevices, nooks, and crannies of the building, this can become an excellent breeding ground for molds. And molds are known to inhabit damp, warm, and dark places for many years often causing a host of respiratory and dermatologic problems to the building’s occupants.

In addition to the ordinary molds, one scary passenger of floodwater or black water is black mold or toxic mold. These microorganisms produce mycotoxins that are considered lethal.

Bathroom-Based Water Damage

The bathroom is essentially a magnet for water damage. It is thus imperative that regular maintenance checks be performed especially under the sink, the bathroom tiles, behind the toilet, and everywhere else. Water stains are excellent indicators of potential mold growth. Make sure to regrout your bathroom tiles. Placing a small dehumidifier can help reduce the moisture in the bathroom. Exhaust fans can also be used.

High Indoor Humidity

Basements and crawlspaces are naturally humid. This makes it the ideal conditions for mold growth. Molds naturally love dark, damp, and warm places, characteristics of both crawlspaces and basements. Vapor barriers can be placed over areas that are open to the Earth. Additionally, dehumidifiers need to be installed in such places in the house.

Managing water damage entails understanding the different types of water damage. Being fully prepared to manage these eventualities will require a more comprehensive approach. Investing in resources that will help you manage water problems is one way to ensuring preparedness. Having a concrete and workable action plan in times of water damage crises will also be important.

Credits

Center for Disease Control and Prevention
Toronto Carpet Cleaners
Wikipedia – Mold Health Issues

James Jacobs