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What is Raw Sewage?

Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison

Raw sewage is wastewater that has not been treated. It comes from residential properties, like houses and apartments, as well as commercial buildings and industrial and agricultural processes. Essentially, it is the liquid waste that comes from houses and businesses. Not surprisingly, it can contain a wide variety of contaminants and present a health hazard if left untreated where humans or animals can come into contact with it. For example, sewage may overflow from a sanitary sewer after a period of very heavy rainfall.

Raw sewage often contains urine and feces from toilet flushing as well as other types of human waste; it may also contain such things as toilet paper and wipes. Sometimes, tampons and other feminine sanitary products are found in it as well. In this case, it is often referred to as blackwater. However, toilet flushing isn't the only thing responsible for the creation of sewage. It can also be a result of industrial-site drainage, discharge from sewage-treatment plants, washing water, and rainwater runoff from roofs.

Plant responsible for treating sewage water.
Plant responsible for treating sewage water.

Sometimes, dirty wastewater drains into watersheds. When this happens, the environment is as much at risk as people. The pathogens in raw sewage can contaminate ecological systems in addition to sickening humans and animals. Raw sewage typically contains viruses and bacteria as well as health-harming microorganisms. For example, this type of waste is known to contain E.coli and hepatitis A; cholera is another well-known pathogen in raw sewage.

Sewage travels through sewer lines to a treatment facility.
Sewage travels through sewer lines to a treatment facility.

Besides being exposed to bacteria and viruses, a person exposed to sewage may develop a range of illnesses, including gastroenteritis, which is marked by diarrhea, vomiting, and abdominal cramping. The sometimes-fatal Weil's disease is another common problem, which causes symptoms that resemble the flu and can lead to liver and kidney damage. Occupational asthma, caused by inhaling certain organisms, is another risk of exposure. Even the skin and eyes are not immune, as infection can develop here as well.

Most raw sewage comes from what is flushed down a toilet.
Most raw sewage comes from what is flushed down a toilet.

Most people who have adequate, modern plumbing are not at very high risk for coming into contact with dirty wastewater unless there is a malfunction, leak, or overflow of normally reliable sewage systems. However, there are some occupations that make exposure possible or even likely. For example, people who are charged with inspecting, maintaining, or repairing sewers may be exposed to it. Employees of water companies, some agricultural workers, sludge tank drivers, and those charged with maintaining aircraft sewage compartments also risk exposure. Of course, plumbers are exposed to raw sewage frequently, sometimes on a daily basis.

Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison

Nicole’s thirst for knowledge inspired her to become a AboutMechanics writer, and she focuses primarily on topics such as homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. When not writing or spending time with her four children, Nicole enjoys reading, camping, and going to the beach.

Learn more...
Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison

Nicole’s thirst for knowledge inspired her to become a AboutMechanics writer, and she focuses primarily on topics such as homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. When not writing or spending time with her four children, Nicole enjoys reading, camping, and going to the beach.

Learn more...

Discussion Comments


I need help. My whole yard and under my home filled with raw sewage and the landlord won't help me with expenses to move, but told me to get out so he doesn't get in trouble. I don't know what to do or where to go for help.


I live in a duplex in Seattle WA and the sewage overflowed in the lower apartment. The tenants in the lower apartment had to move out for a month while the landlord replaced the flooring of the lower unit. There was a couple of feet of raw sewage under the house. The landlord put a pump under the house.

Once the liquid was gone, she had someone go under the house, dig up all the raw sewage mixed with dirt/mud and then put it in our backyard. Is this legal? I had no idea she had done this until a few days ago. When I took my dogs out back, they got in it and have had diarrhea for a couple of days. Can my dogs get hepatitis? I am worried about our dog's health.

I cannot understand why anyone would put raw sewage in their backyard as a home owner or landlord. Sadly, the landlord is a lawyer! Is it even legal to knowingly dump raw sewage in a backyard? It seems crazy and really irresponsible. Is there anything I can do?


@anon294494: This sounds like a job for the media. Call your local newspaper or television station and ask if they have a reporter who covers local health issues on staff. If not, then ask to speak with the metro or city editor, or at a TV station, the news editor. Do *not* ask for the "investigative reporter." If you do, whoever answers the phone will either tell you the person is not in, or will alert the reporter you speak with that a nutcase is on the phone. I work in a newsroom, so I know wherefore I speak.

Give the reporter a *brief* summary of the details. Don't include every little thing. The main thing to say is you have a huge hole in your backyard, it's filled with raw sewage, and calls to the mayor, landlord and health department have gotten no results. Also mention that your husband has been diagnosed with MRSA and that the sewage has started to back up into the apartments. That should be enough to get a reporter interested in the story and then he or she can come out to interview you and take pictures and you can give the reporter the full story at that time.

The reporter will want to call the departments you called for their side of the story, but I strongly suspect getting this situation on TV or in the newspaper will get someone to take some action. You might also check the media's website. Sometimes they have a reporter who acts as an ombudsman to help solve these kinds of problems. Good luck!


I'm just hoping for some good advice here. I live in an apartment building. It's a four-plex.

Well, when I moved in, I had no idea the septic tank was broken. There is a huge hole out in my backyard from the raw sewage that has nowhere else to go! I can't even open the windows in the den as the septic tank is about 20 feet from the window, and the smell is horrible.

A guy who lives upstairs has taken samples to his college for testing and found out it's all poop and urine. We all have called the city inspector, mayor, fire department, landlord, health department and pollution control, but nothing gets done and no one is taking this seriously.

My husband has developed MRSA. It's a skin infection all over his hands and it's a form of staph. I have been sick with flu like symptoms and other things as well. More recently, this has been backing up into the lower apartments, including mine and my neighbor's, as we live in the basements apartments. The landlord then will call and have it pumped but will not fix it properly. After it's pumped, it lasts for about a week then we have poop and urine all over our bathrooms.

I'm scared our health is at risk here. MRSA is nothing to mess around with. I'm disabled and it's hard for me to go anywhere so I'm stuck here all the time, breathing this in. Please help with some good advice on who to call!


My landlord did an addition of a shower, sink and toilet to his converted garage (illegally, I might add!) When I rented this place everything worked fine, then three weeks ago he moved his son into the garage apartment, and turned everything on. Now, the sewer trap in the driveway started spewing on a nightly basis and I've been sick for over two weeks.

Maybe I should turn him in to Building and Safety and then again, maybe I should just refuse to pay any more rent and move out!


I live out in the country and all my surrounding neighbors live on 10 acre plots. My elderly neighbor has had a hard time financially over the last few years. This morning he pumped out a portion of his septic tank in his yard. I live about 100 yards from his dump site. I hate to report him but I am worried about the health risk to my family and my dog. Are we at risk?


Find the office of the Environmental and Natural Resources to file a complaint. You should be able to find a number on the internet.


I live in an apartment complex within the city of Newport News, Virginia. Just next to the complex, the city has a "temporary" fix/solution to the sewer lines and pump. Unfortunately, the fix has open flow areas where gases can excape "heavily" into the surrounding air. One of these fixes is a temporary pipe hanging down into a manhole that is open at the top. Sewage continually flows into the manhole and then into another open area that is even bigger. This operation is located within 70 to 80 feet of the apartment complex. The residents have complained to the city about the smell for the last several years and no action has been taken. We seem to think the higher ups do not know the extent of the smell and its health hazards created from their temporary fix. Several people have not been feeling well, others now have serious problems that may or may not be from this source. There is even a playground just a short distance from the serious issue. What can the residents do to get the city up on their feet to fix this problem. If it is temporary, that's fine. There has to be some method of closing these open areas to better control the smell to include the hazards it produces. We can not get the city to understand this. What do we as residents concerned not only for our health, but the welfare of our children. To simply sit on our patios at any given time without the need to vomit, and breath abnormal would be a great success. We can't even open the doors/windows for only a few seconds without our homes being filled. We don't know where to go at this point.


my 2 grandkids live where there's sewage comin' up in the yard especially when it rains. sometimes the smell gets in the house and the landlord puts lime under the house. is any of this dangerous to the kids?


Wow that's pretty bad. I don't know if I have the answer or not but if I were you I would definitely go to a doctor and maybe you can get in touch with the city and let them know about the leak. Is the sewage leak coming from your home? Maybe the doctor can answer your questions and or the city or maybe a plumber. That's what I would do and maybe call a lawyer.


I found out that my bedroom has been on top of a sewage leak. The leak has been there for over 6 months, maybe longer. I haven't been to the Dr. yet but I have had burning eyes, sweaty feet and a small growth in my eye.

What should I tell my Dr. and what about my garden? Is all the soil contaminated? What about my clothes and everything else inside?

Please anyone if you can help me..I'm in Los Angeles.

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    • Plant responsible for treating sewage water.
      By: Jürgen Fälchle
      Plant responsible for treating sewage water.
    • Sewage travels through sewer lines to a treatment facility.
      By: hansenn
      Sewage travels through sewer lines to a treatment facility.
    • Most raw sewage comes from what is flushed down a toilet.
      By: afxhome
      Most raw sewage comes from what is flushed down a toilet.
    • Raw sewage may contain toilet paper.
      By: nebari
      Raw sewage may contain toilet paper.
    • Raw sewage typically contains bacteria such as E.coli.
      By: 4designersart
      Raw sewage typically contains bacteria such as E.coli.
    • Tampons may be found in raw sewage.
      By: noci0114
      Tampons may be found in raw sewage.