Australia is in the middle of a health emergency. Government authorities around the world are trying to curb the global COVID-19 pandemic by focusing on testing, isolation, social distancing protocols, and finding a vaccine.
A critical aspect of public health that people often ignore is plumbing.
How Plumbing Affects Your Health
Centuries ago, outbreaks of dysentery, cholera, typhoid, and other water-borne diseases were common due to poor plumbing design and lack of clean water. Millions of people died from these diseases. Thanks to technological improvements in plumbing, sanitation, and waste management, however, these public health threats are almost non-existent today, especially in developed countries like Australia.
But this does not mean that water contamination cannot happen in modern cities. Here are four ways you can get sick from bad plumbing.
Wastewater can contaminate your clean water supply with bacteria when there is backpressure or back-siphoning. Backpressure occurs when the downstream pressure is greater than the supply pressure, and contaminated downstream water is forced back up to your clean water supply.
Cross-connection may also occur when there is a drop in water pressure. When your water main breaks or a fire hydrant is in use, the water pressure drops and creates a vacuum. This vacuum can suck contaminants into your pipes.
Although cross-connection is not common, it is still possible, especially if you have older sinks and tubs. Dirty water from toilets, garden hoses, and swimming pools can contaminate your bidets, dishwashers, and even washing machines.
2. Mould from unfixed leaks
Mould thrives in moist organic material. It grows in roofs, basements, bathrooms, kitchens, clogged gutters, and other areas where leaks are prevalent. They can cause a variety of health problems that range from a simple runny nose and headache to more serious issues such as asthma attacks, sinus infection, and other respiratory problems.
3. Improper plumbing installation and negligence
There could be defective valves, air gaps, vacuum breakers, and other components in your home plumbing system that could lead to cross-contamination, back siphonage, and wastewater backup. Be sure to hire only certified licensed plumbers in Newcastle to prevent these issues.
4. High water acidity
Water with a low pH is acidic and can corrode plumbing fixtures that are made of copper, lead, or zinc. It can also cause laundry staining, a metallic or sour taste in drinking water, or blue-green stains in tubs, sinks, and drains.
Acidic water can damage your pipes, lines, and taps. Over time, it can also lead to serious health issues such as liver or kidney damage, gastrointestinal disorders, and increased risk of Type-1 diabetes.
5. Lead pipes
While lead has long been used in plumbing, recent studies have proven that it can be toxic to humans. Ask your plumber to check your pipes, fittings, and fixtures to make sure that lead is not seeping into your drinking water.
COVID-19 and Your Plumbing System
Safety should always be a priority – now more than ever because of the coronavirus pandemic. While Australia has done reasonably well in containing the virus, as compared to the US or the UK, we should still be extra cautious with our day-to-day activities.
Here at Green Planet Plumbing, we’ve been monitoring the COVID-19 situation through daily updates from the health department. For plumbing professionals like us, watching supermarket shelves being wiped out of toilet paper is a concerning development. We might have to deal with an overwhelming number of sewer blockages resulting from consumers who can’t get toilet paper using unsuitable alternatives and flushing those down their toilets.
As we deal with the shortage on toilet paper, we cannot stress enough the importance of not flushing certain products which can cause major damage to your plumbing system. These products include:
- Wet wipes
- Tissue paper
- Paper towels
- Cleaning cloths
- Sanitary products
These items do not dissolve in water the way toilet paper does. In fact, they actually absorb water which makes them expand once they are flushed. That’s terrible not only for your pipes but for our environment as well.
Dos and Don’ts to Prevent Plumbing Emergencies
Plumbers provide an essential service to our community, especially during the current health emergency. But in the process, they are also putting themselves at risk, as well as their families and anyone that they come into contact with after completing the job.
One way to avoid calling a plumber is to take precaution with your plumbing system. Since plumbing emergencies don’t occur by chance, you can prevent plumbing disasters from happening by following these dos and don’ts.
- Don’t flush anything aside from pee and poo.
As mentioned above, do not flush things down the toilet. Paper towels, baby wipes, and hygiene products can wreak havoc on your plumbing system.
- Don’t pour grime and gunk down the sink.
The best way to protect your kitchen plumbing is to avoid pouring any oil, butter, congealed fat, or any greasy substance down the sink.
In the bathroom, oil baths can cause blockages too, especially when combined with hair and other particles that are trapped in the drain.
- Don’t ignore the leaks.
Small leaks when left unfixed can grow into a more costly problem that can damage your home and become serious health and safety hazards for your family.
- Don’t puncture your pipes.
As the world continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, this is not the time to start a home makeover project. If you are too bored and want to do a little DIY around your home, make sure you know where your pipes are to avoid puncturing them.
- Check for leaks.
Leaks are one of the most frustrating problems with home plumbing. Your kitchen sink, in particular, is susceptible to leaking due to heavy usage. Once you notice that water is escaping around the sink strainer, faucet or any other part of the sink, check for leaks right away.
You should also inspect all the exposed pipes in and around your home. Pay attention to small cracks or holes that may not be easily noticeable. One way to check for water damage on walls is to look for moisture or discolouration. These are often signs that your pipes may be leaking.
- Clean your sinks and toilets.
You should always emphasise proper hygiene in your household – even when there is no pandemic. Clean your sinks and toilets regularly with a mild cleaner to help break down the build-up of debris and keep the water free-flowing.
- Clear slow drains.
If you notice that water is flowing slowly down your drain, it could mean a clog or debris build-up. You can fix this in two ways; you can pour very hot water down the drain, or use a drain cleaner to improve the flow of water.
As part of your regular plumbing maintenance, let the water run down your sinks, toilets, showers, and tubs once every few months to check the speed of the water draining. If you notice slow drainage, this could be a sign that your pipe is clogged or has a partial block. Consider hiring a plumber if the problem persists.
- Look for signs of corrosion.
Rust is one of the main culprits of pipe damage. Green stains are a common sign of corrosion on brass and copper pipes while orange stains are often found on worn steel fittings. Replace your pipes if the problem is severe to avoid costly damages in the future.
- Inspect all your plumbing fixtures.
Since we are all forced to stay at home during the pandemic, this is the perfect time to inspect your taps, showerheads, and valves. To make sure there are no leaks, wipe all surfaces around these fixtures and check for signs of moisture after an hour or so.
- Check all your appliances that operate with water
You should also inspect your dishwasher, water heater, washing machine, and other appliances that are connected to your water lines. Look for signs of damage or leaks along the water hoses.
After going through everything around your home, list down the problems that you have discovered and see which ones you can fix and which ones require a professional.
The Impact of the Coronavirus Pandemic on the Plumbing Industry
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected millions of people all across the globe. Like other countries, Australia has seen its share of events getting cancelled and businesses shutting down. While some people have the option to work at home, many professionals are forced to stay at the frontlines. Doctors, nurses, drivers, retail workers, and, yes, even plumbers attend to the needs of our community while putting their own health at risk.
If your pipes are leaking or your water heater suddenly emits steam or smoke, your Newcastle plumber comes to the rescue!
The Australian plumbing industry has been severely affected by the global pandemic. Some companies have been forced to retrench workers while those that remain open can only offer limited services. Perhaps the biggest hurdle for professional plumbers is social distancing. The health department requires people to stay 1.5 metres away from each other to minimise the risk of infection.
For homeowners the question is, should you cancel your regular plumbing maintenance appointment or call your plumber anyway?
The answer is simple – cancel or postpone unless you have an emergency. A burst pipe is definitely an emergency while a small leak is not. If the problem can wait or you can fix it yourself, put off calling a professional to get the job done.
When do you need a plumber?
Plumbing emergencies can happen at any time. Whether there is a pandemic or not, your pipes could burst, your toilet could clogged, or your water heater could break down. All these issues require an urgent fix.
You may have a potential blockage if:
- your sinks, showers, or toilets are slow to empty
- your toilet is not flushing properly
- your toilet is overflowing
- your toilet or floor drain is making gurgling noises
- wastewater is backing up from the drain.
If a simple leak has turned into a full-blown disaster, call your trusted Newcastle plumber immediately.
How to minimise risks during a health emergency
If you need to call a plumber to deal with an emergency, here are important reminders on how to protect your family as well as your plumber.
1. Call ahead and ask about safety protocols.
Despite the health risk, many plumbing and maintenance companies continue to serve their community. Call and ask about their safety and hygiene protocols. Do their plumbers wear protective equipment while on the job? Have they been briefed on public health guidelines prior to visiting your home? If a company does not enforce the rules set by the health department, do not hesitate to find someone else.
2. Ensure a safe work environment.
You and your plumber share equal responsibility in making sure the work environment is safe for everyone.
Always observe proper social distancing – stay at least 1.5 metres away from one another. Instead of crowding your bathroom, let your plumber do the work alone. You can wait in the kitchen or living room, or stay out in the yard until the job is completed. Also, make sure that you have hand sanitisers or antibacterial soap available so your plumber can wash their hands before leaving the premises.
3. Always disinfect after the work is completed.
After the job is completed and the plumber has left, you should disinfect the work area as well as the pathway. Clean and disinfect all surfaces that they might have touched along the way.
4. Stay up-to-date with public health guidelines.
With the rapid transmission of the coronavirus, the government has had to keep pace with the latest developments. Therefore, it is not surprising that safety protocols often change in a moment’s notice. Be sure to stay updated so you can do your part in slowing down the spread of the virus.
Why Plumbing and Public Health Go Hand-in-Hand
Well-maintained plumbing systems protect our water supply from contaminants and pathogens – and are therefore essential in maintaining a healthy community.
However, no plumbing system is absolutely foolproof. Maintaining our home plumbing system is something that we should never take for granted, especially now that everyone’s health is at risk.
If you are not able to fix plumbing issues in your home, then you are exposing your household to water-borne diseases. The problem becomes even more dangerous if your sewage and wastewater pipes contaminate your drinking water. An outbreak of any disease is the last thing that our hospitals need right now, so plumbers are essential during this public health emergency.
If you need help in repairing leaks or inspecting your pipes, give us a call at 02 4911 9402. Green Planet Plumbing is happy to help with all your plumbing concerns.