The new program has increased business, but it upsets some | News, Sports, Jobs

By ED RUNYAN

staff writer

Mahoning County’s new septic system O&M program has resulted in more work for Quaker City Concrete Products of Leetonia.

Jeff Foust, owner and general manager of Quaker City, 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 septic tanks, but it does supply the tanks and other materials that septic installers use to install a system. Quaker City also visits customers’ homes twice a year to help homeowners maintain their septic systems.

“Just like in your car, you need to change the oil in it. If you don’t change the oil, it will go bad,” he said.

One of the maintenance items the company frequently addresses is aerators, which are engines that push air and oxygen into a septic system to increase natural bacterial activity and provide additional treatment of the wastewater a home produces.

Aerators work in conjunction with large filters that need to be checked every six months, Foust said. “That’s basically 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 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 reused later.

Some septic system owners haven’t had their system repaired in decades, so Quaker City’s initial visit may involve some additional service or parts replacement, Foust said. In some cases, the entire system has to be replaced.

“Some customer calls that we’ve been getting are for systems that have been in operation, 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 environmental health director, said it’s true that many systems will require an annual service from a company like Quaker City, but not all.

Systems with motors and electrical connections 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 pad do not require a maintenance contract with a service provider, Masters said.

“Those are the ones we say that people need someone to pump them once every three years,” Masters said. “The annual contract is to make sure all those electrical components are still actively working.”

Masters said there are 17,000 septic systems in Mahoning County.

Foust said Quaker City charges $250 to $350 a year for a septic service contract, depending on the type of system the owner has and how long it’s 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 (to standard). So they could be looking for $1,000 to put it back where it belongs,” Faust said of an initial visit.

Some septic systems have other components that may need maintenance, such as chlorination systems and ultraviolet light.

LIKE NEW

Foust said Quaker City’s job when it makes its first visit to a septic system is to repair it back to almost the level it was when it was new.

“If it was designed in, say, 1975, that’s how we have to do it,” Foust said. “Sometimes the health department will say you need to update it a little bit to get something else in there. That is the decision of the health department.”

After registering the system with the Mahoning County Public Health Department, the homeowner contacts a service provider to come to the home. That means a service provider like Quaker City checks the system or a pumper pumps out sludge from the septic tank.

Masters said the service provider completes a system condition report and provides a copy to the owner and the health department.

“If that shows there’s a problem with the system, that’s when we send out our paramedics,” Masters said. “We didn’t show up for any kind of compliance inspection. Now we’re going out to essentially do spot checks on these to make sure they’re being reported accurately,” Masters said.

That also protects the homeowner to make sure the services they paid for are being performed, he said.

Foust said the health department “will tell us that (the septic system) needs a new motor, it needs a filter, it needs chlorine, it needs an (ultraviolet disinfection system).”

A chlorination system injects chlorine into wastewater to kill pathogenic bacteria and reduce odor, according to a 1998 US EPA fact sheet. “If done correctly, chlorination will kill more than 99 percent of harmful bacteria” in domestic sewage. UV light is an alternative to chlorination, the fact sheet states.

Masters said that some of the most up-to-date septic systems require treatment that uses an ultraviolet light or a chlorinator.

Foust said some customers entering Mahoning County’s new O&M program aren’t happy about being required to take additional steps to operate their septic systems. Some think the costs are too high, he said.

“There are 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’s a hardship for them when you say, ‘If you have an aeration system, now I’m charging you an extra $200 or $300 a year that you’re not used to paying, plus the fee that goes to the health department,’” Foust said. .

Masters said the amount the owner pays the county health department is $30 to $125 a year, depending on the type of system.

Foust said he believes the intent of the new program is to identify malfunctioning systems and put them in order. Masters added that another reason for the new O&M program is to make septic systems last longer.

“I’m sure the pumpers are working harder,” Foust said, adding that the health department “says that even if your system was built in 1950, we still want a pump report to see what kind of condition it’s in. ”

Masters said the primary information the service provider is expected to provide to the health department is the condition of the tank. “If they notice other issues, they will report them as well.” Service providers and pumpers are asked to check for “ponds” of water near a septic system that could indicate a problem with the septic system, Masters said.

Foust said asking pumpers to be on the lookout for problems that could suggest a problem with the septic system puts pumpers in a difficult position.

It’s been routine for pumpers to let their customers know if something in the system seems to need an update, “but now they’re supposed to turn it back over to the health department,” Foust said.

erunyan@vindy.com

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