Health Department to begin random inspections of septic systems across Adam County

Pictured, from left: Jason Environmental Health Director for the Adams County Health Department, and Dr. William Hablitzel, Director of the Adams County Health Department.


Economic Development Office will provide grant funding for system repairs and replacement – 

By Patricia Beech – 

If your drains are slow and a noxious “Porta-Potty” odor has invaded your home, chances are your septic system isn’t operating like it should.
Septic systems are designed to capture, treat, and disperse household sewage containing bacteria and viruses that pose public-health and environmental threats.
According to the state Department of Health, defective waste removal systems are a state-wide problem. An estimated 31 percent of Ohio’s 650,000 home septic systems are leaking untreated waste into the ground and streams across the state.
In response to the growing problem, the state in 2015 adopted and implemented an updated version of the Ohio Sewage Treatment System Rules.
The new rules have brought several changes to the way local health departments operate the sewage system treatment programs within their jurisdiction.
An Operation and Maintenance program designed to protect the public’s drinking water and improve the water quality of lakes, streams, and rivers now requires local health department personnel to conduct on-site inspections of all 8,700 septic systems in Adams County.
“What pushed this law into effect was the number of older septic systems that are failing, and the sewer plants that have trouble maintaining standards,” said Jason Work, Environmental Health Director for the Adams County Health Department.
In addition to conducting inspections, the department is also required to issue Operation and Maintenance (O&M) Permits on each waste system at set intervals of time, based on the specific type of septic system being used.
According to Work, local waste systems using aeration, alternative technology, and electrical components will be inspected and issued permits every two years; subsurface sand filter systems will be inspected every five years; and leaching line or leaching bed systems will be inspected every ten years. The price of the inspection and O&M permit is $50.
“We know that cost is an issue for some residents and the Economic Development Office is working to provide grant money that will cover upgrades and repairs,” says Work. “We’re not on a witch hunt. We’ll be looking to make sure your system is operating the way it should, we’re not there to knit pick.”
Work said each issued permit will specify what action property owners need to take to be in compliance, which may include: having the septic tank pumped every two to four years, obtaining a service contract to maintain and service motors or pumps, or having the effluent filter in the tank cleaned.
State health officials are hopeful that the new rules will help Ohio residents maintain septic tank systems that effectively capture, treat, and disperse household waste.
Dr. William Hablitzel, Director of the Adams County Health Department, says the issue with leaking waste systems is an “out of sight, out of mind” problem.
“For many of us, once a septic tank is installed we forget about it because it’s buried,” he said. “Before you know it, ten years have passed and problems start appearing.”
In addition to slowing drains and producing unpleasant odors, sewage can seep into the surrounding ground and water supply.
According to Hablitzel, raw sewage contains numerous disease pathogens, such as Hepatitis A and e-coli bacterial strains like salmonella, which can contaminate both water and soil.
In recent years an outbreak of measles among cattle in Adams County was attributed, in part, to failed septic systems.
“We reduce the risk to the community by using effective treatment systems,” says Work. “With a failed system you might have sewage bubbling up into the yard where your children play and it can be very dangerous to your health.”
Under the new rules and guidelines, failure to upgrade or repair a faulty septic system could likely result in legal action and court-imposed fines up to $150 per day.
“If we find a failing system, it will have to be upgraded,” says Work. “We’re working with the Economic Development Office to make sure we have grant money to help residents with the costs of improvements.”
According to Holly Johnson, Director of the Adams County Economic Development Office, funding from the County Housing Impact and Preservation Program (CHIP) will be made available to county residents for upgrades and repairs.
“CHIP is more than a government program in Adams County,” says Johnson. “To many, it is a lifeline.”
A nationwide program, CHIP offers assistance with home improvements to low and moderate income households.
“Our Adams County CHIP team, which has the full support of the Board of Commissioners, is committed to promoting quality housing for our local residents,” says Johnson. “With $400,000 awarded for a two-year period, our team has proven, since 2003, to be very good stewards of these federal dollars.”
The CHIP program focus on two activities: Owner Rehabilitation and Owner Repair.
Owner Rehabilitation focuses on correcting substandard conditions so that owner-occupied homes are safe, healthy, durable, energy efficient, and affordable. Owner Repair activities are designed to correct one or more specific deficiencies that adversely affect the occupant’s health and safety and/or the house’s structural integrity.
Funding qualification and priority is determined by the program guidelines, which include household income, the priority rating of the home, the housing need, and the availability of funds.
Johnson said the Board of County Commissioners and the Economic Development office are committed to assisting residents requiring septic tank replacement.
“We will work to find any available funds to offset this hardship,” she said.
Johnson’s office has applied for and received the Household Sewage Treatment System (HSTS) Grant from the Ohio EPA.
The HSTS Grant is for low to moderate-income homeowners who require assistance replacing their failing septic systems.
The Health Department is requesting that county residents voluntarily sign up to have their on-site septic system inspected. For more information or to schedule an inspection, contact the Adams County Health Department at (937) 544-5547, Ext. 101 or 103.