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Sewage Backflow Tragedy
by Jeff Bishop
The following article caught my attention while participating with the IICRC Water Damage Restoration Technical Advisory Board in writing a paper on sewage backflows peer review in the Journal of Enviromental Health. The article, published in the San Diego Union, involved a sewage backflow in City Heights, a subdivision of San Diego.
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2 to get sewage tragedy payment
by Pat Flynn, staff writer

Two little girls whose mother became ill and died within an hour after sewage backed up into their City Heights home will recieve a $1 million settlement from the city of San Diego. The City Council, which has approved the deal in close session, is scheduled to formalize the action Monday. The unusual case recieved no media attention at the time it occured...

The attorney for the family of Carol Bolton, described the series of events that led to Bolton's sudden death.
Bolton, 33 -year-old credit manager, was called at work the afternoon by her landlord, who reported that sewage was backing up into Bolton's home on Cherokee Ave. She went home and, along with city employees and those of a private contracter, began examining the damage done by the raw sewage backup.

She came home and found her home awash in raw sewage. Within a half-hour, Bolton, an asthmatic, had developed hives and began to suffer other reactions. By then her husband, Curtis, also had arrived home. He told her to go outside, where, within minutes, she collapsed.

Within 20 minutes her lungs filled up with fluids. Bolton was taken by ambulance to Mercy Hospital, where she was pronounced dead.

It is not known precisely what caused this severe reaction in Bolton, both attorneys said, but medical experts were in agreement that her reaction and subsequent death were the result of the sewage problem. There was an irritant caused a life-threatening situation.

While Bolton had lived with asthma attacks, there was no evidence that she had ever had a reaction approaching the severity of the one that led to her death. The $1 million settlement, to be paid out of city reserves, will be used to provide for the needs of the Bolton's two daugters, now ages 5 and 7, and to purchase an annuity that will provide lifetime payments to them...

The sewage backup responsible for Carol Bolton's death was one of a series in that area of City Heights, the attorneys said. For months, they said, sewer line breaks there had been even more of a problem than in the rest of the city, which as a whole is plagued by an antiquated and overtaxed system.

In March, U.S. District Judge Rudi M. Brewster said the City Council consistently responded by refusing to spend one dollar more than minimally necessary. While the city grew, minimal capital was invested to replace and upgrade antiquated and obsolete collection lines and pump stations. The result is the outrageous record of spills, closures and distress to residents over sewer backups in their homes, churches and businesses...

A storm sewer overflow was responsible for what remains the second largest liability loss in city history.

Eight days before Bolton's death, the council agreed to pay $9 million to the owners of 15 homes flooded in February. Brewster fined the city $3 million and lambasted officials for their :outrageous record" in dealing with sewage spills and treatment. Brewster's ruling against the city marked the second largest fined ever imposed for violations of the U.S. Clean Water Act.

In his opinoin, Brewster cited the 3,700 sewage spills the city has had over seven years, primarily from pipes carrying human waste to the Point Loma treatment facility.

Scary, isn't it? While this tragic death represents an extreme and highly unusual case, it has significant implications for water damage restoration contractors everywhere. Among other critical procedures, several points need to be emphasized:

According to Dr. Michael Berry, Deputy Director of the U.S. EPA, "The pathogenic potential of a water-damaged structure should never be underestimated." Municipalities and building owners no longer can take a wait-and-see attidude towards sewage backflows. Rapid response by an IICRC-certified water damage restoration contractor is critical.
About the author:
The author of this exclusive ICS article, Jeff Bishop, Clean Care Seminars Inc. administrator, is the carpet cleaning industry's most prolific author with several books on cleaning, disaster restoration, and related subjects. He teaches courses and lectures at well over 60 schools, workshops, and industry conventions annually. He also provides consulting services for the carpet and insurance industries.
Residential sewage backup
effecting carpeting & walls
Photos by Kevin Benson
City sewage back-up
effecting kitchen floor