One of the most frustration, damaging, and dangerous situations that can arise at a home or business is a sewage leak that results in the flow of what technically is known as “black water” into the premises. If you are a home or business owner it is imperative that you clearly understand the serious risks and dangers associated with sewage leaks and black water.

White Water, Gray Water, Black Water: How Water is Rated

Water is rated in one of three grades as far as waste content is concerned:

  • White water
  • Gray water
  • Black water

White water is what technically is classified as “potable water.” This is water that can be drunk, used to bathe, and for cooking. White water is not pure, but it is drinkable. Gray water is H2O that is not suitable for drinking but doesn’t contain sewage. For example, gray water is water that has been used in a household setting for doing dishes. Although not suitable for drinking, it can be used to water a garden, if a homeowner was so inclined.

Black water is an entirely different story. Black water is water that contains raw sewage. As a consequence, black water contains what are known as harmful pathogens, substances that have the capacity for causing serious (and even fatal) illness in human beings.

Pathogens in Black Water

Black water contains a wide array of different types of hazardous pathogens. These include:

  • Bacteria
  • Viruses
  • Fungi
  • Parasites


Black water has the potential to contain high amounts of bacteria, including bacteria capable of cause illness (including serious illness) in humans. Bacteria commonly found in black water and raw sewage includes:

  • Salmonella
  • Shigella
  • E. coli
  • Streptococcus
  • Pseudomonas aeroginosa
  • Mycobacterium
  • Giardia lamblia


Viruses including hepatitis A can be found in black water. Hepatitis A is a highly contagious liver infection. Symptoms of hepatitis A include:

  • Belly pain
  • Jaundice (yellowing of skin)
  • Diarrhea

There is no specific course of treatment to resolve a hepatitis A infection. With that said, over time a hep A infection resolves. This usually requires a person to adopt specific lifestyle changes, including some dietary changes to enhance overall health. 


Black water can contain fungi that can infect humans as well. Fungi that may be found in black water includes Aspergillus. This type of fungi can lead to what appear to be allergic symptoms that include a runny noise. Fungi contained in black water can worsen a person’s asthma. It can also cause what potentially can amount to a serious lung infection.


Parasites that commonly are found in black water include Cryptosporidium and Giardia lamblia. These parasites can cause a person to suffer diarrhea, stomach cramps, nausea, and fever. Roundworm or Ascariasis is another type of parasite found in black water. In some cases, a person experiences no symptoms from a roundworm infection. In other cases, an individual suffers trouble breathing, coughing, and belly pain. In a serious case of roundworm infection, a person can face blocked intestines.

Biggest Danger Associated With Black Water: Trying to Clean Sewage up Yourself

When all is said and done, a solid argument a person can make regarding black water is that the greatest danger is found when a person attempts sewage cleanup on his or her and without professional assistance. The fact is that in nearly all cases, a homeowner does not possess and lacks access to appropriate personal protective equipment to shield against the inherent dangers of black water and sewage cleanup. This is not the type of equipment that easily can be purchased from the local home store. Personal protective equipment rated for biohazards is what is required to cleanup black water and raw sewage.

In addition to having appropriate personal protective equipment, you also need to have hands-on experience in the specific steps that must be undertaken to thoroughly eliminate all vestiges of black water and sewage from a home or business. Even leaving what seems like a miniscule amount behind can expose people to the risk of becoming infected by a dangerous pathogen.

In order to safely, thoroughly undertake black water cleanup, a person needs appropriate supplies as well. These include medical grade sanitization agents. As is the case with biohazard-rated personal protective equipment, these sanitization agents are not readily available to the typical home or business owner.

With this in mind, if you face a black water and sewage leak situation in your home or business, you need to take immediate steps to engage the services of a qualified, experienced, reputable biohazard remediation specialist. While waiting for the arrival of a professional, you need to cordon off and keep everyone away from any area contaminated by black water or sewage. This may necessitate keeping your family out of the home on a temporary basis until a black water and sewage cleanup company completes work on the premises.


Emily Kil

Co-Owner of Eco Bear Biohazard Cleaning Company

Together with her husband, Emily Kil is co-owner of Eco Bear, a leading biohazard remediation company in Southern California. An experienced entrepreneur, Emily assisted in founding Eco Bear as a means of combining her business experience with her desire to provide assistance to people facing challenging circumstances. Emily regularly writes about her first-hand experiences providing services like biohazard cleanup, suicide cleanup, crime scene cleanup, unattended death cleanup, and other types of difficult remediations in homes and businesses.