Safety and first aid

Household wastewater and health risks

Wastewater contains 99.7 per cent water. However, the 0.3 per cent of dissolved and suspended matter can contain many microorganisms that may be harmful to humans, animals and the environment. These can include:

  • viruses
  • bacteria
  • fungal
  • parasitic organisms.

If you come into contact with wastewater or its products, you could end up being exposed to harmful microorganisms that can cause illnesses such as:

  • gastroenteritis (diarrhoea or vomiting)
  • giardiasis and cryptosporidiosis (severe stomach cramps, diarrhoea or vomiting)
  • viral infections such as hepatitis (liver infections)
  • infections of the skin or eyes.

How do I get these illnesses?

People can be exposed to these harmful microorganisms by:          

  • Hand to mouth contact – when you have contaminated hands (or gloves) and then touch your mouth while eating, drinking, smoking, or by wiping your face.
  • Skin contact – if you have cuts, scratches, or penetrating wounds, certain organisms can enter the body. Some organisms can enter the body through the surfaces of the eyes, nose or mouth.
  • Breathing in – dust, aerosols, droplets or mist can become contaminated with microorganisms.

How can I reduce my risk of exposure to wastewater during an overflow event?

Whenever you are cleaning up after a wastewater overflow on your property, make sure everyone involved is wearing personal protective clothing such as:

  • rubber boots
  • rubber gloves
  • washable or disposable coveralls.

If you don’t have protective clothing, you should keep away from the affected area until it has been thoroughly cleaned and disinfected.

Other safety precautions include:

  • Assume anything touched by wastewater is contaminated.
  • Wash your hands and affected areas of the body thoroughly with clean warm water and soap, especially before eating or smoking.
  • Ensure that any cuts, scratches or wounds are properly covered before undertaking any cleaning activities. Water proof bandaging or dressing is the most effective.
  • Immediately wash and disinfect wounds that come into contact with wastewater.
  • Change out of dirty clothes and wash clothes separately.
  • Clean and dry dirty footwear.
  • Contact your doctor immediately if you experience any illness.

Are odours from wastewater a health concern?

Odours from wastewater may be annoying, but they are not a direct health concern.

If odours persist please contact:

  • your wastewater service provider for sewered properties (generally Water Corporation)
  • your local government environmental health service for properties with onsite sewage disposal.

If you’re a neighbour that is experiencing an odour problem that appears to be coming from your neighbour’s property, please contact your local government environmental health service.

More information

If your domestic wastewater overflows, please contact the relevant department or authority.


Acknowledgements
Public Health

This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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