Summary

  • Sewage overflows can occur at home as a result of damaged or blocked plumbing, backflow from the sewerage system, a damaged septic tank or as a result of flood water containing sewage. 
  • Sewage contains harmful microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses and protozoa. Direct contact with sewage or surfaces contaminated by sewage can result in illnesses such as gastroenteritis.
  • Wear protective clothing (such as rubber gloves, boots and eye protection) when cleaning.
  • Do not use your water supply until you know it is safe.
  • A registered plumber may be able to advise if your sewage system is working correctly.

Sewage overflows at home 

Sewage contains harmful microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses and protozoa, which can cause illnesses like gastroenteritis. Sewage overflows can be caused by damaged or blocked plumbing, sewerage system backflow, septic tank damage and flood water. 

If your home has an overflow, protecting yourself and your family should be your top priority. 

Avoid direct contact with sewage and any contaminated surfaces.

Thoroughly disinfect every surface touched by sewage. 

Make sure you wear protective clothing when cleaning and disinfecting, including rubber gloves, boots and eye protection. Use an uncontaminated water supply when cleaning – do not use your own water supply if you are unsure of its quality. 

If a sewage disposal system is not properly maintained it will not be able to get rid of the sewage safely. Proper maintenance of a sewerage system means all faulty (blocked, damaged, broken or worn-out) parts must be repaired as soon as possible after they stop working correctly. 

Public health advice 

  • Practise good hygiene and wash your hands frequently, especially after touching contaminated surfaces and before preparing food.
  • Clean and disinfect all contaminated areas.
  • Keep children and pets away from contaminated objects and areas until they have been disinfected.
  • Contact a plumber if you suspect your plumbing or septic tank system is damaged.
  • Clean out silt and debris from septic tanks. This should be pumped out by a professional as soon as possible once it is safe for the vehicle to access your tank. Refer to your local business directory to arrange a septic tank pumping service by a licensed contractor.
  • Contacting your local water business or local council if sewage is leaking outside your property boundary. Your local water business can access the problem. Depending on the leak’s location, this could either be the water business’ or the householder’s responsibility.
  • If your private water has been contaminated, use bottled or boiled water for non-drinking uses instead, such as washing dishes and brushing your teeth.
  • Seek medical advice if you become ill or injured.

Clean-up procedures 

  • Use a chlorine solution of one cup of household chlorine bleach with 10 litres of cold water (roughly a bucketful) as a disinfectant.
  • Make sure electrical hazards are dealt with before you start cleaning. Call a licensed electrician to do this for you, or else switch off the power at the house switchboard or fuse box.
  • Wear protective clothing including rubber gloves, boots and eye protection.
  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water. If you get anything on you while cleaning, wash yourself immediately.
  • Sweep out water. Discard any contaminated household materials that cannot be effectively cleaned or disinfected, which may include carpet, mattresses, upholstered furniture or children's soft toys.
  • Discard contaminated drywall, plasterboard and insulation. Consult a building practitioner if you are don’t know how to do this or are concerned about the structural integrity.
  • Soak utensils in a chlorine solution Rinse in clean cold water.
  • To disinfect hard surfaces, use a chlorine solution and leave wet for 10 minutes. Rinse the surface afterwards with clean cold water.
  • Disinfect cleaning mops, brooms and brushers with the bleach solution.
  • Clean and disinfecting all contaminated areas with cold water and detergent, then disinfect with a chlorine solution. Pay special attention to cooking utensils and surfaces, such as walls, benchtops and floors. Throw out all food, food containers and medicines that have been affected, including canned and packaged food.
  • Clean and dry dirty footwear, and wash affected clothes in hot water and soap.  Do not mix with unaffected footwear or clothing. Make sure to wash your work clothes when you’ve finished cleaning.
  • Ensure you have adequate ventilation inside the house to help the drying process. Fans, air conditioning units and dehumidifiers can help.
  • Attend to cuts and wounds immediately. Disinfect the wound then cover with a waterproof dressing. Keep open wounds as clean as possible by washing well with soap and clean water.
  • Mould or mildew may develop if things are not completely dried. The Department of Health and Human Services provides information and advice on how to clean mould.
  • If the outside of your home has been affected, use a chlorine solution to clean any hard surfaces. More detailed advice on managing sewage is provided by the Department of Health and Human Services.

Where to get help

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This page has been produced in consultation with and approved by: Department of Health and Human Services - RHP&R - Health Protection - Environmental Health Unit

Last updated: October 2020

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