Water Damaged Indoor Environments
It seems as though, as with the subject of mold, that water damages have become controversial and complicated. Maybe one person heard this and another that; this company is saying do this, while another says do that; or some people feel they’ve gotten sick during a water damage, while others don’t. Either way, most people have either experienced a water damage or known someone who has, but few understand its affects on the Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) and their health. I hope that this page might help you understand a little more about the indoor environment of a water damage.
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Wikipedia Encyclopedia defines water damage as, “a large number of possible losses caused by water intruding where it will enable attack of a material or system by destructive processes such as rotting of wood, growth, rusting of steel, de-laminating of materials such as plywood , and many, many others.
“The damage may be imperceptibly slow and minor such as water spots that could eventually mar a surface, or it may be instantaneous and catastrophic such as flooding. However fast it occurs, water damage is a very major contributor to loss of property.
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Water damage can be caused by a number of sources, such as leaking plumbing, sewage back-ups, vandalism, hail damage, clogged guttering, natural disasters, hydrostatic pressure, leaking or congested crawl spaces and attics, and many others. Whatever the cause, prompt, thorough attention should be given to the situation in order to protect everyone’s health, the Indoor Air Quality (IAQ), and the building components from compromising degradation. The Institute of Inspection, Cleaning, and Restoration Certification (IICRC) in its Standard & Reference Guide for Professional Water Damage Restoration (hereafter referred to as the S500), states several times how “it is important to begin mitigation procedures as soon as safely possible following the initial loss, as the quality of the water is likely to deteriorate over time.As the quality of water deteriorates, the greater damage to the structure and contents, along with increased environmental hazards, are likely to develop.”
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The IICRC S500 goes on to say, “If increased water activity and/or ERH (Equilibrium Relative Humidity) (from high relative humidity, leaks or floods) is allowed to exist for more than 24 hours, the high moisture condition changes the normal stable ecology of either a part of the indoor environment (a micro-environment such as carpet or wallboard) or of the entire building.”
So, “What are some of the changes taking place in a water damaged environment?”
1. chemical and microbiological off-gasing
2. mold and bacteria amplification
3. in some cases, virus transmission
4. parasitic infestations
5. and much more
“Where do these things come from?” Indoor and outdoor environments naturally harbor, in varying degrees, microscopic life forms, termed “microbes”. Microbes is a term used in short for microorganisms. Microbes are tiny, one-celled organisms, bacteria, fungi (such as mold), and viruses. Being found in all living things, they are ubiquitous, that is to say they are existing or being able to be found anywhere, especially at the same time. When exposed to excessive moisture for a prolonged period of time microbes will begin to flourish into a population, or ecology, that is not natural and may cause harm.
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The off-gasing that takes place comes from the microbes, cleaning agents and the building components, such as pesticides and other biocides used on water damages, plastic, paints, synthetic fibers, and many more. This off-gasing and chemical distribution has been contributed to a number of health effects in sensitized people. Some examples of these health effects include, but are not necessarily limited to migraine headaches, excessive fatigue, neuro-cognitive symptoms (“brain fog” or memory loss), muscle pain (fibromyalgia), joint paint (rheumatoid arthritis), burning, tingling or numbness in peripheral nerves (parasthesias), and even gastrointestinal symptoms.
Because of the seriousness associated with health effects and water damage, the IICRC felt it necessary to categorize water damages based on the cleanliness of the water, to help remediators, restorers, home owners, and all other materially interested parties make decisions on what action would be appropriate to first provide for the health and safety of everyone involved, and, secondly, how to restore the home to its pre-loss condition. The three categories of a water damage are:
1. Category 1, refers to “water originating from a source that does not pose substantial harm to humans. Also referred to as ‘clean water’.”;
2. Category 2, refers to “water containing a significant degree of chemical, biological and/or physical contamination and having the potential to cause discomfort or sickness if consumed by or exposed to humans. Also referred to as ‘gray water’.”; and,
3. Category 3, refers to “grossly unsanitary water, containing pathogenic agents, arising from sewage or other contaminated water sources and having the likelihood of causing discomfort or sickness if consumed by or exposed to humans. This category includes all forms of seawater, ground surface water and rising water from rivers or streams. Also referred to as ‘black water’.”