Getting Ed-Ucated: Sump Pump Malfunctions
In the water restoration industry, sump pump losses have generally been considered a category 2 water loss. That’s because the level of microorganism risk -though the water came through the ground- does NOT meet the criteria listed in the category 3 definition guidelines below:
*Category 3 water is grossly contaminated and can contain pathogenic, toxigenic or other harmful agents and can cause significant adverse reactions to humans if contacted or consumed. Examples of Category 3 water can include, but are not limited to: sewage; wasteline backflows that originate from beyond any trap regardless of visible content or color; all forms of flooding from seawater; rising water from rivers or streams; and other contaminated water entering or affecting the indoor environment, such as wind-driven rain from hurricanes, tropical storms, or other weather-related events. Category 3 water can carry trace levels of regulated or hazardous materials (e.g., pesticides, or toxic organic substances).
Instead, sump pump water losses typically meet the category 2 definition. That still allows the restorer to save affected drywall or only remove it in areas where there’s cleanup behind the drywall. The category 2 designation enables the restorer to pull affected carpet pad, but save the carpet (if properly cleaned), and use antimicrobials/biocides in affected areas. Because the category 2 definition states “contains significant contamination,” most sump pump malfunctions will fall in this category. However, if enough sludge, silt or contaminants are present, then it could qualify for the category 3 designation.
*Category 2 water contains significant contamination and has the potential to cause discomfort or sickness if contacted or consumed by humans. Category 2 water can contain potentially unsafe levels of microorganisms or nutrients for microorganisms, as well as other organic or inorganic matter (chemical or biological). Examples of category 2 water can include, but are not limited to: discharge from dishwashers or washing machines; overflows from washing machines; overflows from toilet bowls on the room side of the trap with some urine but no feces; seepage due to hydrostatic pressure; broken aquariums and punctured water beds.
Category 2 water can deteriorate to Category 3 once microorganisms become wet from the water intrusion, depending upon the length of time that they remain wet and the temperature, they can begin to grow in numbers and can change the category of water.
Category 2 water losses require the onsite lead technician to make a determination when deciding what materials to recommend for removal, but if photos show the extent of debris (e.g., silt, sludge), it can give the restorer the flexibility to clean up adequately and ensure any microorganism risk was addressed.
If category 2 water is allowed to stay in contact with materials for days and the conditions are conducive to microorganism growth, then changing the category from 2 to 3 might be reasonable. Visible microbial growth that occurred from the sump pump malfunction would generally be a key to changing the category. Remember, many basements are cooler and more humid, which may create mold before the water loss. If potential pre-loss mold is discovered, it is important to perform a thorough investigation to determine if the mold was pre-existing or not. I advise in these cases going to where it was “the wettest the longest on the material most likely to grow mold.” That is typically the drywall paper, front & back, or possibly the front or back of the base trim nearest the sump pump that malfunctioned to look for microbial growth.