The Role of Government “Oversight” for Septic Systems

It is hard to know where to begin a discussion on the issues brought to us by Florida’s Springs Protection Act. For over 10 years, special interests from environmental groups, the septic systems industry and State bureaucracies have been orchestrating rules and regulations to eliminate septic systems from Florida. Eric Hoffer, an American moral and social philosopher, said, “Every cause begins as a movement, becomes a business and eventually degenerates into a racket.” What stage do you say we are in?

Rules and regulations for septic systems come from Florida’s Department of Health. A good starting place might be the mission, vision and values of FDOH as published on their website.

MISSION – To protect, promote & improve the health of all people in Florida through integrated state, county, & community efforts.

VISION – To be the Healthiest State in the Nation

VALUES (ICARE)

I nnovation: We search for creative solutions and manage resources wisely.
C ollaboration: We use teamwork to achieve common goals & solve problems.
A ccountability: We perform with integrity & respect.
R esponsiveness: We achieve our mission by serving our customers & engaging our partners.
E xcellence: We promote quality outcomes through learning & continuous performance improvement.

You might easily be drawn to a conclusion that FDOH is interested in the health of the citizens of Florida. That is a conclusion that we will leave up to you. However, to understand the Springs Protection Act, we must look at the decisions and alternatives demanded of homeowners by FDOH.

Septic Systems

A septic system is designed to remove bacteria and nutrients from human waste. The “System” consists of three components: (1) the tank; (2) the drainfield or dispersion unit; and (3) soil.

A conventional tank eliminates bacteria and some nutrients. Drainfields and soil eliminate additional nutrients such as nitrogen. The goal is to remove all bacteria and as much nitrogen as possible (approximately 50% total from tank, drainfield & soil) from entering Florida’s aquifer.

FDOH has adopted a National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) standard called NSF-245 as a requirement for all future septic solutions in Florida. These are classified as Advanced Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems (AOWTS). Using electrical power, circuitry, pumps, blowers, floats, timers, filters, chambers, etc., the AOWTS “tank” removes bacteria and 50% of the nitrogen. The drainfield and attenuation that occurs in soil are expected to remove an additional 15% nitrogen, making the target removal 65%.

Florida’s Department of Health publishes a list of approved AOWTS systems allowed now in Florida meeting NSF-245. FDOH has systematically denied use to other innovative technologies that work passively (without electricity) in the drainfield. To help homeowners see the impact on their personal health and wellbeing, a variety of AOWTS vendors brochures and warranties have been reviewed. The information below is taken directly from the very industry that FDOH has brought to Floridians by their rules and regulations.

Electricity

Simply stated, with Florida’s many weather events, power outages are common. This brings one to conclude that the 2.4 million homeowners with septic systems will eventually be thinking about backup power to process wastewater in their home. Here is what FEMA states about generators:

“Be aware that generators can cause dangerous hazards such as:

  1. Carbon monoxide poisoning from the engine exhaust pipe
  2. Fire
  3. Electrocution

Here are some safety tips:

Be sure to read the manufacturer’s instructions on how to use the generator.

Carbon monoxide poisoning

Do not use a generator indoors or in partially enclosed spaces- including homes, garages, and crawl spaces – even those areas with partial ventilation.

Do not or near open doors and windows. Using fans will not prevent carbon monoxide build-up in the home. Do not place the generator in front of open windows.

Do not assume that you are safe. Be aware that carbon monoxide fumes emitted by gasoline, propane, diesel or gas engines can be fatal. As carbon monoxide is odorless people are not aware of its presence.

Install carbon monoxide alarms inside your home to alert you of dangerous levels. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s recommended placement.

Electrocution or electric shock

Always connect the generator to the appliances with heavy-duty extension cords.

Hooking up your generator directly into your home power supply could increase the voltage or could cause a surge to the outside power lines and potentially injure or electrocute an unaware utility lineman. It also bypasses some of the built-in household circuit protection devices.

Connecting the generator to your home could cause a surge in electricity that might result in injury or death to yourself or your family.

Use a qualified electrician to install the appropriate equipment in accordance with local electrical codes or ask your utility company to install an appropriate power transfer switch.

Fire

Keep your generator outside and fuel your generator outside.

Do not store fuel for your generator in your house. Gasoline, propane, kerosene, diesel and other flammable liquids should be stored outside living areas in properly labeled, non-glass safety containers.

Do not store fuel near a fuel-burning appliance, for example a gas stove.

If the fuel is spilled or the container is not sealed properly, invisible vapors from the fuel can travel along the ground and be ignited by the appliance’s pilot light or by arcs from electric switches.

Before refueling the generator, turn it off and let it cool down. Gasoline or other flammable liquids spilled on hot engine parts could ignite, and invisible vapors from the fuel can travel along the ground and be ignited by the generator’s pilot light or by arcs from electric switches in the appliance.”

Click here for Generator Stories during Irma

AOWTS Manufactures Warnings and Requirements

The information listed here is taken directly from manufactures documentation.

“Daily Maintenance
• Observe the warning device, which comes on when the power to the air pump has been interrupted, when the air supply system has malfunctioned, or there is a high-water level in the treatment plant. If the alarm is activated, check for a blown fuse or thrown circuit breaker. Check the air pump to be sure it is operating. Once accustomed to the soft humming sound of a properly operating unit, any unusual noise is an indication of malfunction. If an unusual noise is detected or total failure is observed, call an authorized dealer/distributor.

Weekly
• Check the treatment plant for offensive odor. If such a condition should develop, call your authorized dealer/distributor.

Every 3 Months
• The air filter on the air pump should be cleaned. Rinse with warm water if necessary. Do not use oil or other solvents.

Every 6 Months
• Inspect and make any necessary adjustments to mechanical and electrical components.
• Inspect effluent quality’s color, turbidity and check for any odor.
• Take a sample from the reactor tank to check the sludge level described in the ‘Solids Removal’ section”

Lifestyle Requirements

“Using an AOWTS
Wash loads must be spread out over the week. Once a week multiple loads or half loads are not recommended.
• Do not place citrus products, oranges, lemons, grapefruit, animal bones, egg shells, coffee grounds, corn cobbs, melon rinds, skin into a garbage disposal.
• Flushing of Home brewery waste, strong medicines, antibiotics and antibacterial soaps should be avoided.
• Do not use strong disinfectants or bleaches. Laundry products such as Lysol, Pine-Sol, Tidy Bowl, or discharge from water softeners.
• Recommended detergents are powdered, low-sudsing, low phosphates and biodegradable washing soda ingredients such as Gain, Arm & Hammer, Fresh Start, and Dash Bright. Fabric softener dryer sheets are recommended.
• Recommended cleaning products are non-chlorine, biodegradable and nontoxic such as Ivory & Sunlight dish washing liquids, Cascade & Sunlight powdered dishwasher detergents, Comet & Biz powdered cleaners, baking soda.”

Warnings on Warranties

“SYSTEMS REQUIRING PUMPOUTS DUE TO NOT FOLLOWING USE RECOMMENTATIONS ARE VIOLATIONS NOT COVERED BY THE WARRANTY.”

“WARNING: Always secure all access covers to prevent unauthorized people from entering the tank. Only qualified service personnel should open access ports and/or covers. Infectious organisms exist in a septic tank. If any contact with wastewater occurs, immediately wash and disinfect all exposed areas and contact personal physician. Failure to do so could result in severe sickness or death. DO NOT use an open flame or cause a spark near a septic tank’s access points. Gases emanating from septic tanks can explode if ignited or deadly if inhaled.”

“The following should not be used or disposed of into the system:
• Greases, fats, oils, pesticides, herbicides, or any other toxins.
• Garbage disposal should be used sparingly. Dispose of food waste, grease, etc., in the solid waste bin. Food waste represents additional loading the Wastewater Treatment System would have to digest, increasing pump out intervals.
• Paints, household chemicals, automobile fluids, etc. – do not discard mop water into the system.
• Nonbiodegradable items such as cigarette butts, disposable diapers, feminine hygiene products, condoms, hair, coffee grounds, rags, paper towels, bandages, latex, plastic or metallic objects, etc.”

ANTS HAVE BEEN SHOWN TO BE DESTRUCTIVE TO THE AIR PUMP. REGULAR CARE SHOULD BE TAKEN TO PREVENT INFESTATION OF ANTS NEAR THE SYSTEM. DAMAGE OR DESTRUCTION BY ANTS IS NOT COVERED UNDER MANUFACTURER’S WARRANTY. ”

“DANGER: Make sure your service provider does not leave access risers uncovered or partially covered. Failure to properly secure access covers and safety nets could result in bodily injury, illness or death. Do
not allow children to play on or around the treatment system. Riser safety nets are available.”

Seasonal Use Warnings

“1. System not in use for more than one month and less than three months. Electrical power is left on and there are no frost conditions.
• Leave air pump on and system running.
2. System not in use more than three months. Electrical power is turned off and there are not frost conditions.
• Remove all materials and liquid from tank.
• Refill with clean water.
• Turn off air pump.
3. System not in use more than three months. Electrical power is on and there are not frost conditions.
• Leave air pump on and system running; OR
• Remove all material and liquid from tank.
• Refill with clean water.
• Turn off air pump.
4. System not in use. Electrical power is turned off and there are frost conditions.
• Remove all material and liquid from tank.
• Turn off air pump.
• If high groundwater is present, fill with clean water.
• If no groundwater is present, leave tank empty.”

General

“An aerator vent assembly is cast into the concrete access cover above each aerator. The vent assembly supplies fresh air to the aerator, which is drawn through the aspirator and into the wastewater. Finished landscaping should be maintained six inches below the top of the vented access cover and graded to drain runoff away from the cover. Do not allow plants, shrubbery, mulch or landscaping of any type to restrict the flow of air to the vent assembly or obstruct the access cover.”

Conclusion

After reading the comments from just a few AOWTS manufacturers, homeowners will need to decide whether the health, safety and wellbeing of Floridians is being served by the Department of Health. By FDOH’s refusal to provide passive alternatives (numerous vendors do exist, and products are in use in many other states), you will now be exposed to increased risks due to:

  • Death through carbon monoxide, fire and electrocution
  • Explosions due to gasoline, methane, electrical short circuits
  • Deadly fumes
  • The inability to use medications and still stay in your home
  • Hazards to your children
  • Requirements to leave your home in the event of prolonged inactivity of the AOWTS or sustained power losses
  • Exposure to deadly bacteria
  • Inability to use disinfectants
  • And so much more ………

Now re-read FDOH’s mission statement. What grade to you give them? All the impact on homeowners is to improve nitrogen removal by an extra 15%. Yet studies consistently show that once installed, the complexity of an AOWTS is no better than a conventional septic system.

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Robert Samson

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