New program has increased business, but it angers some
By ED RUNYAN
Mahoning County’s new septic-system operation and maintenance program has resulted in more work for Quaker City Concrete Products of Leetonia.
Jeff Foust, Quaker City owner and general manager, said the company has done 15 to 20 percent more septic-tank service work in Mahoning County this year than usual.
Quaker City does not install septic systems or pump out septic tanks, but it does supply the tanks and other materials septic installers use to put in a system. Quaker City also visits customer homes twice per year to help the owners maintain their septic systems.
“Just like in your car, you need to change your oil in it. If you don’t change your oil, it’s going to break down,” he said.
One of the maintenance items the company addresses frequently is aerators, which are motors that push air and oxygen into a septic system to increase the natural bacterial activity and provide additional treatment of the wastewater that a household produces.
Aerators work in conjunction with large filters that have to be serviced every six months, Foust said. “That’s basically just making sure the aeration is working and the filter is clean,” Foust said.
During a recent visit to a customer, two workers removed a large, round filter from one of the three concrete openings in a septic system and replaced it with a clean one. The dirty filter was loaded onto the truck to be cleaned and re-used later.
Some septic system owners have not had their system serviced in decades, so the initial visit by Quaker City can involve some additional service or replacement of parts, Foust said. In some cases, the entire system has to be replaced.
“Some calls from customers we have been getting are for systems that have been in the ground let’s say since 1975, 1978,” Foust said. Even systems like that fall under the county’s new operation and maintenance program, Foust said.
Colton Masters, the county’s director of environmental health, said it is true that many systems will require annual service from a company like Quaker City — but not all.
Systems with motors and electrical hookups need regular maintenance, but septic systems that do not have aerators and other types of motors and systems and only have a septic tank and leach field do not require a maintenance contract with a service provider, Masters said.
“Those are the ones we say that people need to have somebody pump it out once every three years,” Masters said. “The yearly contract is to make sure all of those electrical components stay actively working.”
Masters said there are 17,000 septic systems in Mahoning County.
Foust said Quaker City charges $250 to $350 per year for a septic-service contract, depending on the type of system the owner has and how long it has been since the system was serviced. The annual service charge is for two service calls per year.
“Then they still have to buy the parts that are needed to bring it back up (to standard). So they could be looking at $1,000 to bring it back to where it needs to be,” Faust said of an initial visit.
Some septic systems have other components that may need to be serviced, such as ultraviolet-light and chlorination systems.
Foust said Quaker City’s job when making its first visit for a septic system is to repair it so that it is nearly back to the level of when it was new.
“If it was designed, say in 1975, that’s how we have to make it,” Foust said. “Sometimes the health department will say you need to upgrade it a little bit to get something more in there. That’s the health department’s decision.”
After registering the system with Mahoning County Public Health, the homeowner contacts a service provider to come to the home. That means a service provider like Quaker City checks out the system or a pumper pumps out sludge from the septic tank.
Masters said the service provider then fills out a report on the condition of the system and gives a copy to the homeowner and to the health department.
“If that shows there is an issue with the system, that’s when we send our sanitarians out,” Masters said. “We don’t show up for any type of enforcement inspection. Now we will be going out to do essentially spot checks on these to make sure they are being reported accurately,” Masters said.
That also protects the home owner to make sure the services they paid for are being done, he said.
Foust said the health department “will tell us (the septic system) needs a new motor, needs a filter put in, needs chlorine, needs a (ultraviolet disinfectant system).”
A chlorination system feeds chlorine into the wastewater to kill pathogenic bacteria and to reduce odor, according to a 1998 U.S. EPA fact sheet. “Done properly, chlorination will kill more than 99 percent of the harmful bacteria” in household wastewater. Ultraviolet light is an alternative to chlorination, the fact sheet states.
Masters said some of the most up-to-date septic systems require treatment that uses a UV light or chlorinator.
Foust said some customers who are coming into Mahoning County’s new operation and maintenance program are not happy with being required to take extra steps to operate their septic systems. Some think the costs are too high, he said.
“There’s some parts of the county that don’t have money,” Foust said. So far, Columbiana County, where Foust lives, has not implemented a new septic program, he said.
“It is a hardship on them when you say, ‘If you have an aeration system, now I’m charging you an extra $200 or $300 a year that you are not used to paying, plus the fee that goes to the health department,” Foust said.
Masters said the amount a property owner pays to the county health department is between $30 and $125 per year depending on the type of system.
Foust said he believes the intent of the new program is to identify systems that are not working properly and get them in order. Masters added that another reason for the new operation and maintenance program is to make septic systems last longer.
“I’m sure the pumpers are getting more work,” Foust said, adding that the health department is “saying even if your system was built in in 1950, we still want a pumping report to see what kind of condition it is in.”
Masters said the main information the service provider is expected to give to the health department is the condition of the tank. “If they notice other issues, they will report those as well.” Service providers and pumpers are asked to check for “ponding’ of water near a septic system that might indicate a problem with the septic system Masters said.
Foust said having pumpers being asked to watch for issues that could suggest a problem with the septic system puts pumpers in a difficult position.
It has been routine for pumpers to advise their customers if something about the system appears to need an upgrade, “but now they’re supposed to turn it back into the health department,” Foust said.