Water Intrusion and Health Concerns: Keeping Workers and the Public Safe


With spring fast approaching in Chicago, facility managers are placing away their snow shovels while performing building assessments as they look for winter damage. However, the spring weather can also usher in a new stage of water woes. The melting snow and moderate rainfall are causing streams, rivers, and high water tables. Eventually, the water has to go somewhere, as it enters industrial plants and commercial buildings.

Water Intrusion Safety Concerns

Besides getting your feet wet when entering the building, water can harbor significant health risks depending on how it enters a building and where the water originated from before gaining access. In addition, water can become contaminated after entering the building from running equipment, machinery discharge and stored products such as chemicals. Depending on the level of contamination, you have to treat each cleanup effort in a different manner to prevent maintenance workers from becoming ill.

Identifying the Source of Water Intrusion

Frozen Water Pipes

frozen pipeMany commercial buildings will discover that the source of the water intrusion may come from cracked water pipes under the ground floor. If the pipes are old or froze during the winter, the water could be entering now as the ground warms up and the pipes unthaw. This type of water normally poses the least amount of contamination risk. Yet facility managers should still take active steps to quickly reduce the amount of damage. Generally, you have about 24 hours up to 48 hours to dry out porous materials that are nutrient rich, such as carpeting and drywall. If the materials are not completely dried out or removed, mold growth will occur.

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Sewer and Storm Drain Backup

Another significant and common source for water intrusion is sewer line and storm drain backup. Storm drain water is considered polluted while sewer line backups will contain parasites, infectious viruses, and bacteria. Preventing further water damage can be difficult in some cases. If there is a blockage in the line, clearing out the debris will prevent further backflow. However, you may have to wait until the water table levels lower for the water to disappear if you are dealing with significant flooding in the region.

In the case of sewer and storm drain backup, all porous items are considered to be contaminated and must be disposed of in a safe manner. Non-porous items can be clean, sanitized, and completely dried. Workers should also take the necessary safety precautions by wearing protective gloves and suits to prevent the contaminated water from touching skin.

Exterior Flooding

Wide-scale exterior flooding can take a long time to subside depending on the amount of ground saturation there is and if stormy weather continues to contribute to the rising flood waters. Even though the source of the water is from nearby streams, groundwater and rainfall, you should still perform remediation tasks in the same way as with sewer contaminated water.

Building Operations Can Impact Remediation Efforts

Certain types of facilities may need more stringent water remediation plans due to their work processes that may become contaminated from the water intrusion. Industrial facilities manufacturing pharmaceuticals and health care centers must undergo continuous monitoring for the possibility of mold growth that can cause health concerns to patients and contaminate medical products. Even if your facilities are not medical in nature, it is still advisable to develop a water cleanup plan that addresses each type of water intrusion that could occur. The plan should outline the steps that workers will use to bring the facility back into full operation while at the same time protecting your workers’ health.