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A blog by your local public health experts

 

We invite your comments but will delete those with profanity, personal attacks, derogatory statements, ads or promotional material. Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department does not provide personal medical advice; please contact your health care provider. 

Everyone Suffers When Good Septic Systems Go Bad

Environmental Health Supervisor Randall Olsen
by Randall Olsen06/27/2018 3:30 p.m.
Updated: 06/27/2018

In our septic systems blog series, you learned about tools and resources to properly care for your septic systems:

In this post, we will look at what happens when homeowners don’t take advantage of resources to fix a failing septic system.

A partnership to protect public health

When we get a complaint about a failing septic system, our staff investigate. We work with homeowners to resolve problems and find solutions. Others may get involved, such as onsite sewage professionals and sometimes city or county sewer utilities, to complete necessary repairs.

It’s more than just a bad odor.

Surfacing sewage from a failing septic system can create more damage than just a bad smell. Surfacing sewage creates these public health risks:

  • Carries bacteria, viruses and other harmful pathogens.
  • Can transmit disease and pollute the environment.
  • Degrades water quality and can contaminate ground, surface, marine and sometimes well water.

When this happens, water becomes unsafe for swimming, recreation, shellfish harvesting and even drinking. When homeowners don’t resolve surfacing sewage, the Health Department takes action to protect public health and the environment under Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 of our Environmental Health Code.

To protect public health, not punish homeowners 

Enforcement action is the last possible resort. Before we get to that point, we have already given notice of violations, shared information on available financial resources and given homeowners reasonable opportunity to fix the problem. If these strategies don’t work, we have to move to enforcement. First, we let homeowners know about our intent to record a Certificate of Non-Compliance onto their property title. If the problem remains unresolved, we record a Certificate of Non-Compliance, which: 

  • Informs all parties with a financial interest in the property of the failing sewage system.
  • Informs any future buyer of the problem. It lists a failing system on the property title.
  • Usually prevents any financing or refinancing of the property until the problem is fixed.

The Health Department charges a $505 fee to remove this certificate from a property title. 

Currently, we are facing this type of challenge with several properties along the Dash Point shoreline in the Northeast Pierce County. A few homeowners have allowed sewage from their failing septic systems to flow into Puget Sound. We’ve worked extensively with these homeowners to provide as much assistance as possible. Some did the right thing to correct the flow, but some have chosen to ignore our requests for correction and our offer of assistance.

If homeowners don’t resolve the issue and sewage continues to surface, we then issue a Health Order. This directs water and electrical companies to stop service to the property. We seldom have to take this type of action. It is truly the last resort. But without a water source, a property owner’s sewage will no longer continue to flow or surface to threaten public health and the environment.

The cheapest septic system you will ever own is the one you have now. Take proper care of it, and with routine maintenance and repairs, it will last a long time. Find resources on septic systems including operation and maintenance and affordable loans to cover repair and replacement costs.

Environmental Health Supervisor Randall Olsen

by Randall Olsen

Randall works to keep our environment free from pollution and contamination.