An Oregon woman has been hospitalized after rescue crews pulled her out of a septic tank where she was trapped for an estimated 24 to 48 hours.
In an interview with IFLScience, Estacada Rural Fire District Division Chief Richard Anderson said a call came in last week from a woman who said she had not heard from her mother in several days. Officials conducted a confined space rescue when they found the middle-aged woman trapped in a 1.8-meter-deep (6-foot) uncovered septic tank. She was transferred by Life Flight to a local hospital where she was put in the Intensive Care Unit.
In his 21 years of being a first responder, Anderson says he’s never seen anything like it. It is unclear why the woman was in the septic tank or how she got there in the first place, but Anderson believes that she must have unintentionally fallen in. Another person was killed about six months ago after falling into an opened well – accidents that Anderson says can be prevented if people take extra precautions around open holes.
“Number one, if there is an open hole keep it covered so that nobody can fall in. Two, have someone there with you so that if you are working in an environment like that then they can recognize it right away and call for help,” he said.
During a confined space rescue, responders look for and treat signs of dehydration, oxygen depletion, and exhaustion, especially after needing to stay upright for extended periods of time in order to keep one’s head above water. Then, of course, there is the nature of this unique environment that the woman was rescued from.
“In this particular case, we’re considering the sanitary concerns of being in an active septic tank. There is a lot of bacteria in there and we start to worry about infections and other issues,” said Anderson.
A number of diseases can be transmitted through exposure to human feces, including cholera, typhoid, hepatitis, polio, and schistosomiasis, according to the World Health Organization. Generally speaking, ingesting human poop is not considered toxic but can produce a variety of symptoms similar to food poisoning.