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Septic Tanks Pose Significant Danger To Florida's Environment

septic tanks, septic systems, septic florida, edmund young, david mahnken, seminole soil and water, seminole county news, news seminole county, seminole county post, florida news, news florida,

Whether you currently have a septic system, or once did, here is what you need to know about the risks.

 

By Edmund Young

 

With so many possible threats to our health daily, it is unfortunate that I must add another one to the ever-growing list but our health and Central Florida’s fragile ecosystem is at threat from something right beneath our feet: septic tanks.

 

Up until the late 1980’s, Seminole County’s sewer infrastructure did not extend to such “rural areas” as Wekiva, Longwood, and Oviedo.

 

Septic tanks were a necessity for the rapid expansion we saw throughout the 70’s and 80’s but now those necessities are becoming a liability. The functional lifetime of a traditional septic system is limited.

 

The system is designed so that with proper maintenance it will last twenty to thirty years, under the best conditions. Many other factors besides how much and what you put into your system can cause early failure of a septic system.

 

According to David Mahnken a local soil scientist and Group 2 Supervisor for the Seminole Soil & Water Conservation District...

 

“Septic systems are evolving beyond simply maintaining an appropriate height above the seasonal high water table to ensure proper function.

 

For effective treatment to occur, consideration of other soil physical and chemical properties is needed to ensure the surrounding soil has the capacity for long term treatment. Proper setbacks from natural systems should be determined based on these characteristics to avoid potential environmental impacts.”

 

Pipes blocked by roots, soils saturated by storm water, compacting of the drain field by parking vehicles or heavy objects on the top of the field, improper location, poor original design or poor installation can all lead to major problems.

 

These systems are still there well past their intended time periods. While some homeowners are maintaining and using them, many have switched to sewers and abandoned them all together if they even know the tanks are down there.

 

While still a necessity in the more rural sections of Seminole County such as Geneva, Chuluota, and Astor Farms where sewer lines are not practical; these ticking time bombs pose a major threat to our natural springs and our aquifers.

 

Many people recently read about the large “fish kills” in the Indian River Lagoon and were properly horrified by the scene but while many still say the event was unfortunate no one seems to be asking “Why?”.

 

Failing septic systems may leak excessive nutrients and bacteria to coastal waters, destroying aquatic plant and animal habitat. When nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus enter coastal waters, they can cause excessive plant growth.

 

Certain types of algae become so abundant they block sunlight in the water.

 

This shade can then kill beneficial plants. As these plants disappear, so do the animals that depend upon them such as salmon and crab. Too much algae also uses up the oxygen in the water, which may kill fish and other animals.

 

Excessive plant growth also makes boating, fishing, and swimming less enjoyable.

 

Recently, many residents of Longwood saw their obsolete and often unused septic systems replaced and their homes connected to local sewer lines.

 

The removal of the one hundred septic tanks from Longwood was funded by matching grants of $864,580 each from the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the St. Johns River Management District and a $2.3 million local match to provide sewer service and eliminate 100 residential septic tanks within the city of Longwood.

 

While the progress being made to protect sources of natural water, many wonder if it will be enough to make a difference. Many local leaders are looking for similar proactive approaches to avoid possible disasters in the future.

 

“I would love to see Orange County emulate what Seminole County just did in Longwood, in regards to being proactive and how one hundred septic tanks will now be replaced, eliminating some 3,600 pounds of nutrients that annually leach into Wekiva Springs,” says environmentalist and Orange County Soil & Water Group 1 candidate Maria Bolton-Joubert.

 

“Both Counties share the beautiful Wekiva Springs area, and it just makes sense to work together to clean up this local and important spring.”

 

Additional risks posed by septic systems that are poorly or no longer maintained is staggering:

 

• Bacteria - All fecal matter contains bacteria, some of which is actually beneficial in the human intestines. When these bacteria infect other parts of the body, however, a danger problem is born. E. coli, for example, is a normal part of all humans' digestive systems, but if it is ingested through the mouth, it can make a person quite sick.

 

Overflowing septic tanks cause wastewater to back up into the house through toilets and bathtub drains. Leaking septic tanks cause wastewater to leak into the yard.

 

• Viruses -  Although not part of a healthy digestive system, viruses from sick people can be shed in fecal material. These viruses can infect healthy, non-infected individuals who come into contact with the fecal material.

 

When dealing with an overflowing septic system, it is important to thoroughly clean any part of the skin that comes in contact with the fecal material to reduce the spread of any viruses present.

 

• Parasites -  Parasites are actually quite common in human feces. If someone comes in contact with parasite-infected fecal matter and does not properly disinfect their hands, parasite eggs could be left on doorknobs, countertops and faucet handles where they will be picked up by other people and possibly ingested.

 

• Flammable Gas - The bacteria responsible for breaking down feces in the septic system produce methane gas as a byproduct. This odorless gas is explosive and present to some degree in all septic systems.

 

Not flushing out a septic system is a sure way to cause a harmful build-up of methane gas that could leak out into the house.

 

• Poisonous Gas - Another byproduct of the bacteria in a septic tank is hydrogen sulfide, a poisonous, and potentially fatal, gas. Hydrogen sulfide, which smells like rotten eggs, along with methane, exists in the septic tank above the liquid line.

 

If not removed periodically, hydrogen sulfide can back up just like methane. Mild exposure to hydrogen sulfide causes watery eyes, runny nose and respiratory tract irritation. Breathing in concentrated hydrogen sulfide results in shock, asphyxiation and, potentially, death.

 

As Seminole County as well as other Central Florida counties continue their booming growth and expansions, we as residents must take the necessary precautions of these underground behemoths from are early heydays and deal with them head-on. Aging septic systems are simply not a problem we can “bury and forget about”.

 

Doing so would place future generations and the general and economic health of Central Florida at risk.

 

 

Ed Young is a local teacher who has taught in central Florida for the last thirteen years. He is a longtime Seminole County resident, financial conservative, and advocate for conserving Florida’s natural resources. He is an elected member of the Seminole County Soil & Water Conservation District where he represents Group 4 and currently serves as their treasurer. He has conducted surveys of state parks for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, conducted educational programs throughout the county, and presented to various community groups and organizations of the benefits of solar energy and water conservation.

 

 

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