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Outdoor Sewage Cleaning Guide

An outdoor sewage spill can result in areas of land, perhaps a garden, drive or patio, being contaminated with potentially harmful substances.

It is very important that you respond quickly but carefully to such an emergency. In some instances, it may be possible for a householder or business owner to clear up a small sewage spillage by themselves.

However, in many cases, we would advise that you seek professional advice and support to carry out outdoor sewage cleaning, both for your own safety and the safety of others.

The help you make the right decision if you are facing a sewage spill, we have created this easy to follow guide, detailing the correct response to a sewage spill or flood to ensure the area affected is left clean and safe to use.

Sewage spill – first response

On first discovering a sewage spill incident, it is crucial to carry out a quick and accurate assessment of the scale of the problem to stand the best chance of saving your garden and surrounding property from serious, potentially long-term harm.

However, your first consideration should be your own personal safety and the safety of others. Sewage contains potentially very harmful – and in the worst cases, deadly – bacteria, viruses and parasites, so personal protection is vital.

How to practice proper hygiene

Before you begin to do anything at all, you should first see that you are wearing the correct protective clothing, to keep any risk of infection or contamination at bay. The recommended protective clothing includes:

  • Waterproof wellington boots.
  • Waterproof gloves.
  • A mask and a face visor or safety goggles.
  • Thick clothing (preferably old clothes you don’t mind throwing away after)
  • Waterproof overalls.

Once the clear-up is complete, throw away old clothes you were wearing, or if you want to keep them, make sure you wash them on their own, on a hot wash setting (60°C).

There are also a number of important safety matters you should always bear in mind when in close proximity to raw sewage:

  • Never eat or drink when in the same location as the contaminated area. Spilt sewage has very harmful microorganisms that can enter the body if the necessary precautions are not followed.
  • It’s important to always practice good personal hygiene. This includes washing your hands anti-viral and anti-bacterial disinfectant after every encounter with the sewage.
  • Cover up any skin abrasions (cuts or grazes) to prevent them from coming into direct contact with the wastewater.
  • Always wash hands thoroughly with soap and water after working to clean up any sewage spill.

How to clean up outdoor sewage spills

Now it’s time to begin the clean-up. So let us take a look at the steps to follow to ensure the outdoor sewage clean is thorough, so you can get back to normal as quick as possible.

Secure and prepare the area

  • Quarantine the whole of the affected area – children and pets should be kept well away from the vicinity. This may be difficult, especially if you have young children who want to go outside and play, or if you have a dog who needs to go outside regularly. But it is vitally important you do not let them near it in order to avoid any illness or further contamination. For example, a pet or child can bring sewage into your home on their feet or, in the case of children, on their hands or clothes.
  • Find out if the sewage can escape into a watercourse. For example, is your property next to a stream or surface water drain (rather than foul sewer). If it is, seek the advice of a sewage cleaning specialist as quickly as possible. Failure to prevent sewage entering natural water courses could result in prosecution.
  • Stop using your wastewater system – toilets, sinks, showers and baths, to prevent more wastewater entering the system and potentially adding to the contamination.
  • Any items or objects that can be moved, should be removed straight away. This could be garden furniture, toys, washing line props and pegs etc. as these can be disinfected at a later time.

Eliminating the sewage

Agricultural lime is an excellent substance that reduces the odour of sewage and encourages the breakdown of organic matter, as it works to increase the pH to above 12.0. This can be purchased from most garden shops and is highly recommended when it comes to clearing up outdoor sewage spillages.

How to use garden lime to treat sewage spills:

  • Sprinkle the lime to the affected area until it is covered in a white dust.
  • If the sewage is thicker in certain areas, you may need to mix the lime in to help it work better – use a rake or spade to do this.
  • Leave to stand for 24 hours.
  • Collect the thicker residue using a rake. Place in a bin bag to dispose of it (double bag if heavy).

Once all the sewage has been removed, mix a solution of bleach and water and treat the entire area (everywhere the lime was applied). This will further disinfect the contaminated region.

Following on from this, if the outdoor sewage spill is minor:

  • Use a hose, sprinkler or watering can to water over the area (depending on how large it is). This dilutes the sewage, making it less harmful.
  • Let the area dry out in the sun for a day. Sunlight helps kill bacteria so don’t rake the affected area straight away as this can slow down the process.
  • If you can still see white dusting of the lime, water over it again until it disappears.

Although it has already been mentioned previously, it cannot be stressed enough how absolutely vital it is that all pets and children are kept away from the contaminated area throughout this whole process – as the lime and bleach can be just as harmful as the raw sewage itself.

Treating major sewage spills

If you are facing a major sewage spill, professional equipment and techniques will be needed. Major sewage spills will be ones that, for example, leave pools of sewage across large areas, or pools of sewage that, because of the topography of the ground, are particularly deep. These are the most hazardous.

The kind of professional outdoor sewage cleaning equipment that will be used includes:

  • Using a vacuum tanker. Large amounts of liquid can be extracted from the ground. Items contaminated by the sewage may have to be removed and placed into bin bags for safe disposal later.
  • The liquid sewage collected by the vacuum tanker will need to be taken for safe disposal at an authorised site.

Please note: If you used the land to grow crops, leave it to stand alone for 12 months before using the land for this purpose again.

Contaminated materials and items

Once the sewage is cleared up, you are still likely to be left with contaminated items that need disinfecting. The longer objects are left, the higher the risk of growth of harmful microorganisms, including bacteria, viruses and fungi.

Therefore, it is vital to act as quickly as possible. Remember, equipment used to tackle the sewage spillage should also be thoroughly cleaned to remove contamination.

Driveways, patios, decking, ornaments, tables, benches and other garden furniture or hard surfaces should be scrubbed clean with a hard bristle brush, using hot water (as hot as you can stand it – use gloves to help withstand the heat), bleach and soap.

Remember: The bleach can kill grass and plants so take extra care.

If any washing had been hanging out to dry and it had been contaminated, there are two options. If the clothing or linen was completely submerged in sewage it should be thrown away.

Any items that may have just been splashed with sewage may be salvageable by being washed on a hot wash (not mixed with any non-affected clothes. Or they should be taken to a dry cleaners for professional cleaning.

Sewage clean-up – seeking professional help

As you can see, cleaning up sewage spillages can be fraught with risks, both to personal safety, the safety of children and pets, and potential pollution of the environment and wildlife.

We would strongly recommend that only the smallest outdoor sewage and wastewater spillages should be dealt with by a householder or a business themselves. It is worth noting, also, that cleaning the sewage may be covered by your buildings insurance.

The key message, though, is that larger spills and floods need the professional attention of sewage cleaning specialists. They know what they are doing, have the right equipment and can tackle sewage spills quickly and safely, providing customers with a permanent solution.

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