Understanding the categories of water damage is the first step in identifying the health risks and correct mitigation steps to restore the hygiene of the property (both structure and contents), setting the foundations for repairs that will allow for safe occupancy and restoration of your insured’s property back to normal conditions.
Categorizing the contamination hazards of water in a damaged structure is crucial to providing an accurate loss assessment and scope.
Water damage is divided into three general categories:
1.Category 1 – Clean Water
2.Category 2 – Gray Water
3.Category 3 – Black Water
Note that the color of the water is not relevant, these are just descriptors used to qualify the risk characteristics associated with hygiene, very real health risks. Relevant factors include such considerations as the origination of the water source, length of time wet, history of the structure, and other environmental impacts from within the structure (such as chemicals like pesticides, fertilizers, animal feces, paint and thinners, fuel oil, rodent poisons, previous water events resulting in pre-existing moldy materials – really think about the hazardous things some store in their basements…and commercial hazards are even more numerous).
The IICRC (Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification) is a governing agent providing accepted industry standards of care and training guidelines. The standard provides the following definitions which guide professionals in making accurate risk assessments and identifying scope parameters associated with water damage mitigation.
Category 1 Clean water originates from a source that does not pose substantial harm to humans if the clean up is performed within 24 hours of occurrence. Clean water sources may include, but are not limited to: broken water supply lines, melting ice or snow, falling rainwater, broken toilet tanks and toilet bowls that do not contain contaminants or additives. Clean water that has contact with structural surfaces and content materials may deteriorate in cleanliness as it dissolves or mixes with soils and other contaminants, and as time elapses.
Category 2 Gray water contains a significant level of contamination and has the potential to cause discomfort or sickness if consumed by or exposed to humans. Gray water carries microorganisms and nutrients for microorganisms. Examples of gray water sources may include, but are not necessarily limited to: discharge from dishwashers or washing machines, overflows from washing machines, overflows from toilet bowls with some urine (no feces), sump pump failures, seepage due to hydrostatic pressure, broken aquariums and punctured water beds. Gray water may contain chemicals, bio-contaminants (fungal, bacterial, viral, algae) and other forms of contamination including physical hazards. Time and temperature aggravate Category 2 water contamination levels significantly. Gray water in flooded structures that remains untreated for longer those 48 hours may change to Category 3.
Category 3 Black water contains pathogenic agents and is grossly unsanitary. Any persons with compromised immune systems, respiratory problems or allergies, or who are under 2 years of age or elderly must remain off the job site until the building is judged safe for occupancy. Black water includes sewage and other contaminated water sources entering or affecting the indoor environment. Toilet backflows that originate from beyond the toilet trap is considered black water contamination, regardless of visible content or color. Category 3 water includes all forms of flooding from seawater, ground surface water and rising water from rivers or streams. Such water sources carry silt and organic matter into structures that create black water conditions. The water is considered to be Category 3 water in situations where structural materials and/or contents have been contaminated with such contaminants as pesticides, heavy metals, or toxic substances.
Water damage can be hazardous to human health if the proper, effective identification (Cat 1-3), along with professional evaluation and mitigation/ remediation are not implemented with care by knowledgeable professionals in the field of water damage mitigation. Personal Protective Equipment is a must for technicians, and consideration for the health and safety of occupants must be included in the mitigation effort. Your client may very well not recognize the grave risks associated with exposure to the water damage event they are experiencing, often blinded by the panic of the moment.
The IICRC Standard reads “… contamination associated with water damage presents a health risk to both occupants and restoration workers. “
Health effects associated with water damage include respiratory ailments, “ Bacteria and Fungi…can cause serious and potentially fatal lung infections in immunocompromised individuals.”
Category 1 and 2 Health Effects can include the following health symptoms:
•Hypersensitivity pneumonitis (lung tissue inflammation)
•Burning eyes, skin irritation
•Low grade inflammatory response
•Nausea, headache, fever
Category 3 water typically contains one or more of these hazards:
Bacteria – Escherichia coli, Salmonella, Shigella, Campylobacter, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Bacillus (spore producing), Soil organisms – Thermoactinomyces, Streptomyces, Saccharopolyspora, Thermomonospora, Viruses – Rotovirus, Hepatitis A, Adenovirus, Norwalk-type Agent, Echovirus, Coxsackievirus, Parasites – Giardia lamblia, Cryptosporidium, Entamoeba histolytica, Balantidium colias well as Helminths – Nematodes (roundworms) and Cestodes (tapeworms). Health effects from exposure to these hazards can be disabling, even death dealing, and at best traumatic.
For Professional Residential & Commercial Disaster Recovery, Damage Restoration and Crime Scene Decontamination contact Rapid Remediation & Recovery by phone at 1-866-874-5632 or via email.