Beginning in 2007, many Ohio home builders and buyers likely will sniff out more information about on-site wastewater treatment than they ever dreamed of.
On May 4, the Ohio Department of Health’s Public Health Council adopted new sewage treatment system rules, based on a state law passed in 2005. The new rules take effect Jan. 1, 2007.
About a million homes in Ohio use a septic tank or other on-site system rather than be hooked up to a sewer system. In addition, an estimated one in four to one in five new homes built in Ohio have on-site systems, said Karen Mancl, water quality specialist with Ohio State University Extension, “and that percentage is growing as people move out of the city to build homes.”
The rules will mean the traditional septic tank/leach field system will be a thing of the past for most new homes, Mancl said.
“The new systems will be designed to match the soils present on the lot, and only 6.4 percent of Ohio’s land has soil appropriate for leach fields,” said Mancl, who is also a researcher with the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center and professor of food, agricultural and biological engineering. “The system for one home will probably be different than their neighbor’s. In many areas of Ohio, just move 50 feet and you’ll find soil with completely different characteristics.”
Mancl has anticipated these new rules for years, and has held workshops on the design and installation of different types of systems for contractors, engineers, soil scientists, sanitarians and regulators. And they have responded. For example, a one-day workshop in June, “Mound System for Onsite Wastewater Treatment,” was full almost since registration began, Mancl said. She originally offered two sessions, and added a third when the waiting list grew long enough. Mancl plans to offer the workshop again later this year. So far, she has taught hundreds of installers and other professionals in learning about new types of on-site wastewater treatment systems.
Implicit in the new rules is a new way of thinking about household waste, Mancl said.
“The old rules were ‘disposal’ rules; the new ones are ‘treatment’ rules. Now when homeowners spend money on a system, they know it will be one that protects the environment and public health by actually removing pathogens, not just moving them away.”
In the past, leach fields were often installed in areas that did not have the proper soil characteristics to treat the waste, Mancl said.
“Pollutants make it to streams, ditches, wells, and you can see the consequences especially in the winter when those families experience what they think is stomach flu. Often their illness isn’t the flu, but water-borne illness from pathogens in the environment around their homes, or in their well water — all because they don’t have a septic system that treats water properly.”
Mancl suggests that anyone planning to build a home in Ohio beginning in 2007 should start learning more about on-site wastewater treatment systems.
“Before you even buy a piece of property (that will require an on-site system) you should make sure that the soil is appropriate for waste treatment,” Mancl said. “And when construction starts, make sure the soil is protected. Digging up and disturbing the soil could easily make it unusable for a wastewater treatment system.”
District offices of the Soil and Water Conservation Service have soil surveys available for the public, and staff members can help people find the property they are interested in. With that information, Mancl suggests reviewing a bulletin she wrote with OSU Extension soil scientist Brian Slater, “Suitability of Ohio Soils for Treating Wastewater,” Bulletin 896-02, available on the Soil Environment Technology Learning Lab Web site, http://setll.osu.edu.
“You will still need an on-site evaluation by a consultant or soil scientist, but I think you should do as much homework as you can on your own so you can ask the right questions and make sure you get the information you need.” Mancl has several other bulletins and fact sheets on her Web site that may be helpful for new homeowners. All are available free for download, or available free or at low cost from county offices of OSU Extension.