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5 Things You Need to Know About Sewer Odor in Buildings

Unfortunately, many facilities are affected by sewer odor. Odor problems are often found in areas of buildings that are used infrequently. This can cause serious health issues for any office and turn off potential clients. It can also drive away employees. Each situation will differ, but below are five FAQs that may help you diagnose and deal with sewer odor in your building.


1. What is sewer gas?


Sewer gas is an inorganic mixture of gases, which can contain compounds such as hydrogen sulfide (H2S), ammonia, carbon dioxide (CO2), methane and nitrogen.

If you are in direct contact with these ingredients, it could cause serious injury to the respiratory system or even death in extreme instances. It’s incredibly important to get a wastewater and sewer treatment professional involved for your safety.



2. What is the reason sewer odors smell so bad?


A combination of the above ingredients can cause odors. However, at low concentrations, they may not be noticeable to the human nose. The main culprits for odors are hydrogen sulfide (HS) and ammonia. Even if you can’t smell the sewer emissions, they may still cause harm. It’s important to have a professional regularly examine the sewer system near your building.



3. How does sewer gas get inside a building?


Sewer gases can easily get into homes and buildings built after the 1950s. These gases escape most commonly through the floor drains in bathrooms, basements, janitorial closets, etc. These are the main routes by which these gases can enter:

  • Blocked vents: Each facility has a vent system that is specifically designed for plumbing. Its function is to balance the atmospheric pressure created by wastewater flowing through the system, and allow sewer odors escape. If the venting is blocked, the odors cannot be released outside and can build up within the building.

  • Drain line damage: Sometimes, the main drain line may have a crack or be broken. This can lead to sewage being released directly under the facility, rather than being transported away. Although it is rare for a drain to burst or become damaged, it can happen due to age and other factors, such as catastrophic natural disasters.

  • Dry traps: This is the main cause of sewer odors. The trap is a simple device, but it does a lot of work. It is made of U-shaped tubing or pipe, and connects to one end of the drain (e.g. a floor drain or drain from a toilet fixture) and the line to the sewer. This trap holds small amounts of wastewater and prevents the sewer gases from entering the drain.


4. Are sewer odors harmful to your health?


As we have already mentioned, inhaling sewer gases or the substances that make them up can cause serious health problems. Hydrogen sulfide can be toxic. It can cause a depressant reaction in the human nervous system.

In most cases, however, the unpleasant odors released by a floor drain are not harmful, but they should not be ignored. Once they are detected, it is important to take steps to eradicate them. It’s better to be safe than sorry.



5. What are next steps after sewer odors are detected?


Start with the simplest and most cost-effective steps. For example, if the smells are coming from a floor drain, or a seldom used sink, pour two cups of tap water down the drain, and wait for a few days. If the odors disappear, it is likely that the trap has dried out and that water was poured down the drain to block the smells.

This temporary solution is not permanent. It is likely that the trap will dry out again within days. If the trap liquid doesn't solve the problem, you can remove the grating from the problem drain and clean it, since the odor is caused by a buildup of bacteria. As a final step, disinfect the area with a disinfectant.

If sewer odors persist after these steps are completed, you should get in contact with a professional to ensure your health and safety.


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