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H2O/IICRC-Cat Code

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Properly classifying the Category of Water is a critical step of all water mitigation projects.


Improper classification often results in:

     •    Inadequate use of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment)

     •    Lack of engineering controls such as containment barriers, negative air systems, and HEPA air scrubbers

     •    Omission of proper cleaning/decontamination of contaminates surfaces

All of which places the occupants and staff at risk resulting in huge liabilities for all parties involved. 

Category of Water - per IICRC

According to the IICRC (Institute of Inspection Cleaning and Restoration Certification), which sets the standards for the cleaning industry and water damage restoration training, there are three different categories describing the types of liquid contaminants.

•    Category 1. This is liquid from a clean and sanitary source, such as faucets, toilet tanks, drinking fountains, etc. But, category one can quickly degrade into category two.
•    Category 2. This category of liquid used to be called grey water, and is described as having a level of contaminates that may cause illness or discomfort if ingested. Sources include dishwasher or washing machine overflows, flush from sink drains, and toilet overflow with some urine but not feces. 
•    Category 3. This is the worst classification and is grossly unsanitary. It could cause severe illness or death if ingested. It used to be called black water, and sources include sewer backup, flooding from rivers or streams, toilet overflow with feces, and stagnant liquid that has begun to support bacterial growth.

Determining the Category of Water

The Categories of Water, as defined by the IICRC S500, refer to the range of contamination in water, considering both its originating source and its quality after it contacts materials present on the job site. Time and temperature can also affect the quality of water, thereby changing its Category. Restorers should consider potential contamination, defined as the presence of undesired substances; the identity, location, and quantity of which are not reflective of a normal indoor environment, and may produce adverse health effects, cause damage to structure and contents and/or adversely affect the operation or function of building systems.

Category 1 - Category 1 water originates from a sanitary water source and does not pose substantial risk from dermal, ingestion, or inhalation exposure. Examples of Category 1 water sources can include, but are not limited to: broken water supply lines, tub or sink overflows with no contaminants, appliance malfunctions involving water-supply lines, melting ice or snow, falling rainwater, broken toilet tanks, and toilet bowls that do not contain contaminants or additives. However, once clean water leaves the exit point, it may not remain clean once it contacts other surfaces or materials.

The cleanliness of Category 1 water may deteriorate to Category 2 or 3 for many reasons, including but not limited to: contact with building materials, systems and contents; mixing with soils and other contaminants. Some factors which influence the potential organic and inorganic load in a structure include the age and history of the structure, previous water losses, general housekeeping, the type of use of the structure (e.g., nursing home, hospital, day care, warehouse, veterinary clinic), and elapsed time or elevated temperature. 

Often a Category 1 source of water does not remain clean, but travels through surfaces and materials causing rapid deterioration in the liquids sanitary state. We must evaluate how contact with building materials, systems and contents, mixing with soils and other contaminants affect the Category of Water.  

Category 2 - 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. 

The cleanliness of Category 2 water can deteriorate for many reasons, including but not limited to: contact with building materials, systems, and contents; mixing with soils and other contaminants. Some factors that influence the potential organic and inorganic load in a structure include the age and history of the structure, previous water losses, general housekeeping, the type of use of the structure, and elapsed time or elevated temperature.

Category 3 - Category 3 water is grossly contaminated and can contain pathogenic, toxigenic or other harmful agents. Examples of Category 3 water can include, but are not limited to: sewage; toilet backflows that originate from beyond the toilet trap regardless of visible content or color; all forms of flooding from seawater; ground surface water and 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. Such water sources may carry silt, organic matter, pesticides, heavy metals, regulated materials, or toxic organic substances. 

Special Situations - If a regulated or hazardous material is part of a water damage restoration project, then a specialized expert may be necessary to assist in damage assessment, and government regulations apply. Regulated materials posing potential or recognized health risks may include, but are not limited to: arsenic, mercury, lead, asbestos, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), pesticides, fuels, solvents, caustic chemicals, radiological residues, mold.  

It is important to remember that the Category of Water initially determined can rapidly change during the course of the project moving from a Category 1 to a Category 3. To prevent amplification of microorganisms, prompt response is necessary for all categories of water intrusion. 

Testing for the Category of Water

It should not be necessary to state that contaminants within water can not normally be classified by an onsite visual inspection or by simply referencing the origin of the water source, yet that's common procedure for many water mitigation contractors.

Bluegrass Environmental utilizes a strict inspection and sample collection protocol when investigating water losses to determine the contamination levels of the effected area. Each project differs based on its own set of circumstances dictating the type of samples to be collected and how they are to be analyzed, yet often preliminary test results are provided in under one hour.

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