Doing something as seemingly innocuous as plumbing work can actually get you killed. In the case of 44-year old Bernice Weaver of Kansas City, brief exposure to toxic sewer gas from a pipe underneath the kitchen sink led to lethal consequences. According to Nick Gromicko, founder of the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors, while reported cases of toxic sewer gas deaths are rare, these emissions are probably responsible for more deaths than people realize.
An autopsy on Weaver revealed that hydrogen sulfide intoxication was the most likely cause of death; with the poisoning exacerbated by Weaver’s asthma and methamphetamine addiction. She had also poured a rather powerful drain cleaner in an attempt to unclog the pipe after disassembling the plumbing. Tragically, her death could have been prevented if she had called in a plumber with advanced sewer cameras and sewer inspection equipment to determine the source of the clog, which would have led to the proper remediation measures.
The inhalation of hydrogen sulfide, the toxic gas released by decaying matter, is a well-known hazard in the sewerage profession. This is why safety measures for sewer inspections and repairs are seriously implemented by many contractors. Several companies, as well as local governments, have also made use of sophisticated sewer cameras to monitor and inspect unsafe underground areas.
“It’s really interesting to see this big list of deaths and [hydrogen sulfide inhalation] does not appear anywhere on the list. I think that shows how unusual this is,” said Jeff Hershberger, a Kansas City Health Department spokesman. Gromicko argued that several residential deaths might not have been properly attributed to toxic inhalation because autopsies are rarely demanded. Fortunately, this isn’t the case for industrial situations, where documented cases abound.
In August 2012, a contractor named Steve Webb was found dead inside a narrow and vertical sewer in St. Charles County, Missouri. A year before that, two sewer workers in North Texas suffered a similar fate. The latter reportedly did not observe standard safety procedures for sewer repairs, as they were not wearing protective breathing equipment. As these two examples illustrate, hazardous air environments can lead to fatalities.
Companies like Haaker Equipment Company provide modern sewer inspection equipment such as manhole cameras, zoom survey cameras, robotic crawlers, small pipe push cameras, and other sophisticated technological equipment that reduce the human risk factor. These can be used to inspect underground infrastructure, as well as pipelines and confined spaces, without placing personnel on the line. By using such sophisticated devices, plumbers and other contractors can remotely determine the causes of various hidden problems, and initiate the best remediation measures.