Question: What are health and environmental concerns for sewage smell in a home?

stevie is asking a question about air-quality
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by stevie | November 29, 2021 21:50 | #28312

Community question from Jen Davis in Ontario

My sister moved into a house a while back on the second floor. There is a sewage like smell that emits from the basement of the house that shows up intermittently, sometimes faint and sometimes very strong- we haven't noticed a pattern to it. It doesn't smell like rotten eggs, so we don't think it's sulfur, it smells distinctly like fences. The house floods every 4-5 years and the landlord has refused to clean up the basement. My sister, and the family who lives below them, seem to be nose blind to the smell now, although myself, and other visitors to the house smell it.

We haven't been able to get assistance moving from this apartment, and the landlord hasn't answered to our concerns about this smell. There are small children who live here, and a young woman who is expecting. We're hoping to know more about what this smell might be, and any environmental/human health concerns around it. We think the smell might be hydrogen sulfide. We're also looking for any information sources we can bring to a judge to talk about the environmental health concerns around this to get the landlord to deal with this problem.


If it was my house, and no one was listening to me, i'd attempt to create an odor log: I'd get whatever was ready-to-hand, either a piece of paper or an online spreadsheet. As the link above recommends, I'd make a row for every day, don't skip days without smell, but definitely do list dates and times/duration of the smell. Also list any health symptoms like fatigue, headache, irritation to breathing or eyes, etc. I'd also put the dates of flooding in the basement, maybe highlighted in a different color.

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I looked up what government agency deals with housing in Ontario: : This statute lists responsbilities of landlord: (do a Find in page for "sewage" and see that the landlord is responsible for sewage disposal).

Have you written a letter or email to the landlord documenting your request in writing? This government site says you should do that. Then, if no response, the website says:

If you tried to contact your landlord or tenant and still can’t solve the problem, call us at:

416-585-7214 Toll-free: 1-888-772-9277

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This comment on a question about wastewater (including sewage) has some info on odors:

And this research note about identifying odors commonly associated with different compounds might offer some clues? It breaks down different smells and their health effects:

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