Million’s of American’s are Living with Ticking Time Bombs

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Soon millions are going to learn they are in danger of dying in their own yard and they could lose their home because they canÂ?t afford to fix the problem. And they wonÂ?t get much help from the Health Dept.

Michael LaBasso was practicing archery at his Long Island, NY home in September of 2001 when suddenly the ground gave way and he was sucked 20 feet to the bottom of his backyard cesspool. It took 18 hours to dig out the body and the Health Dept. warns there are thousands more of these tragedies waiting to happen. But it is not just on Long Island; it is all over the country, and replacing these systems is going cost billions putting many homeowners in financial peril.

Today almost one third of the homes in the US uses a septic system (the majority of them located in and around major cities). When done properly, they are better/cheaper than a treatment facility. But unfortunately about two thirds of those systems are now illegal and potentially deadly.

From 1950 to 1980 people began leaving the cities for the suburbs in record numbers. Because these homes did not have public utilities available yet developers put these homes on cesspools with the understanding the treatment plants would soon follow. But like many of these planning proposals, it didn’t happen that way. Now it’s 30, 40 even 50 years later and many of these homes are still using those systems that were only supposed to last 5-7 years and these aging systems are getting weak and caving in. But it is more than the danger these systems pose to residents; it is going to be a huge financial burden as well.

Most areas of the country began outlawing cesspools in the 1980’s because they were a pollution nightmare. These deep style systems are pits dug in the yard with a concrete or wooden top and covered with topsoil. The [pollution] problem is, these systems are so deep they often discharge directly into an underground water table and those tables feed into lakes, rivers, oceans and even drinking water supplies.

That took care of the new systems going in, but not the 20 million bad systems already in the ground. And because the state or federal government did not institute a plan to catch the old style systems (requiring systems be upgraded before the home can be sold), they have been transferred from one owner to the next fostering the grandfather myth. However that will soon be changing.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 31 states list septic systems as their second greatest source of groundwater contamination and over the next decade all states will begin making septic system replacement a priority. Unfortunately with the way the government typically handles issues, the homeowners will be struck with huge financial liability (up to $40,000) that will devastate many and in some cases cause people to lose their homes.

A scenario becoming more common is people learn after they purchase a home that the system is illegal and will need to be replaced; the problem is they don’t have the money. They have spent all of their available cash on the down payment and moving expenses, and of course they don’t have any equity built up yet so they can’t borrow against the property.

If they would have been told of this situation before the sale they could have negotiated these repair costs into the selling price of the home or elected to pass on the property. However there are steps people can take to protect their investment (and future) if they are made aware of them.

But even the new systems are a major danger. Now many states are requiring the access covers be exposed for easy access to the tank for servicing. What they are not requiring however are those covers be secured (locking covers are less than $100.00) and this is literally an open invitation for disaster. Over the last 2 years no less than four children and several adults have died by opening these covers and falling in and drowning.

Jim vonMeier is an educator and researcher from Minnesota who leads a nationwide community education program teaching homeowners about septic systems. He is also a writer and has appeared on numerous television and radio (CNN, PBS) programs in long and short form interviews/news stories.

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Jim Vonmeier