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It's important to educate your customers regarding septic systems and additives

Reprinted from "The Pumper

In the July Pumper and August Cleaner, Roger Machmeier wrote any excellent article on the "Care and feeding of your septic tank," In the September Pumper and October Cleaner, Charlie Gillenwater's column addressed on one of our pet topics: EDUCATION. We feel that it would be a good idea to "pull it together" and discuss providing education on the care and feeding of septic systems to anyone and everyone who owns them, cleans them, and regulates them

Homeowners rarely know anything about their septic systems. They don't usually know where they are, what they are, how they work, why they fail, or how to keep them from failing. Most pumpers have heard a million times. "You came to pump my tank three days ago and not it's full. You ripped me off."

Let's face it, anyone who thinks septic tanks operate empty, or anyone who thinks a tank gets pumped through the toilet, or anyone who thinks that because they didn't have their tank pumped 30 years, that one pump-out will buy them another 30 years NEEDS education.

It's up to you, the pumper to provide the education. Rule #1 that applies to septic is "out of sight, out of mind." The local health board or the local newspaper can try to educate the public, but they won't listen until they have problems with their own systems: only a personal nightmare will wake them up.

In addition, the local health board doesn't always know best, and even state regulators and the EPA tend to be inconsistent at times. Boards of Health will sometimes arbitrarly ban septic "addiives" because they are harmful or because they don't think they work. Many of these products are harmful. Yet, should the EPA ban pumpers from distributing caustics, acids, and harsh organic solvents and at the same time allow them to be sold by clerks in hardware and grocery stores? Should the Board of Health ban all septic products because some are harmful, even though some are beneficial? And should the Board of Health ban products becasue they don't work or because they make untrue claims?

We say be fair, be legal, and be consistent. If the EPA and states want to ban things, do it at every level, no just though pumpers who are too busy working to fight with the EPA. The EPA shouldn't cave in to pressure from the lobbyists from the companies that make caustic drain openers. The Board of Health should not group the good products with the bad. And, agree with it or not, the Board of Health has no jurisdiction over the relative effectiveness of products. That's the job of the consumer protection agency. Education is needed here.

We don't like it anymore than you do when the companies claim that the ground up sewage sludge or sawdust that they sell will eliminate the need for pumping. In fact, we probably like it a lot less. Obviously there is nothing that eliminates the need for pumping. Yet sludge and sawdust won't adversely effect the public health, so the Board of Health should keep hands off. Education on the need for pumping is really needed here.

Caustics, acids, and EPA priority pollutants will adversely effect the public health, so the Board of Health has an obligation to keep them out of septics. But not just through pumpers; get them off the store shelves, too. If the Board of Health feels that a chemical produces too much suspended material in a tank that eventually overflows and contaiminates the soil, ban it! If too much suspended material is clogging the sewer plant, ban the guilty chemical.

But do not group every product together. There happens to be products on the market that have a positive effect on septic systems and the environment. Any product that is a treatment plant grade product will help a septic system (a septic system is, after all, a small, on-site primary treatment facility). A product that lowers BOD, aids in solids digestion, helps to settle the suspended solids that remain, and controls odor is a treatment plant grade product. The Board of Health and the sewer plant should be thrilled with these. Education is needed here.

Any product that is sold with an honest, representation of its effectiveness and usefulness should remain. Especially products that promote honest public education. No, don't put raw solids down the drain.

Yes, soft-pedal detergents and bleach. Yes, conserve water. Keep it pumped periodically. And if the solids accumulation is too heavy for the pumping intervals, or the drainage is sluggish, by all means give the system some help. Add some bonafide helpful bacteria. Avoid chemicals and acids. And keep the Board of Health honest.

Education help is available. If you don't completely like the Board of Health's education, try the County Extension Service. If that doesn't do it for you, refer to Roger Machmeier's article. If you still need more, we have prepared educational brochures for homeowners, and we have position papers of Boards of Health, and other regulators.

There is alot of confusion out there. And like it or not, it is up to youto sort through it, and educate your customers and regulators. You have plenty of written help, but it is up to you. OR, as Charlie Gillenwater so appropriately put it "Education is a continuous process. It included everything that we interact with each and every day."

Your drivers, your customers, and your regulators all need to be on the same page. it's up to you to put them there.