How some people are dealing with frozen drain fields may be creating a public health hazard.
Solutions for frozen septic system drain fields may seem like a nice cushion in the pocketbook compared to weekly visits from pumper trucks at $70 to $90 or more a time, but the shortcut may have a higher price tag than some residents fully understand.
The potential hazards come with odd names, but more readily understandable and uncomfortable symptoms.
Pathogens -- E. Coli, typhoid fever, hepatitis A, giardia.
"These will all give you severe intestinal disorders," said Tom Espersen, Crow Wing County Planning and Zoning field technician. Or in other words, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, nausea and headaches, vomiting, chills, fever and internal inflammation.
"People need to be aware of the dangers of doing this and why we don't want to do it," Espersen said.
Effluent, an outflowing liquid such as waste material, is sometimes called gray water. It is the liquid portion of what moves from toilets to septic systems and is released underground in drain fields. Pathogens are destroyed when properly dealt with in the drain field. But pumping the gray water onto the ground's surface has no such guarantee. Getting a handle on the numbers of people pumping effluent on the ground's surface is difficult. But several people have commented on the practice and not as a rare event in area counties. Crow Wing County officials stated they know some drain fields have pumped out 50 to 300 gallons before homeowners realized it. And there are so many septic systems in the area, keeping track of them is nearly impossible. About 50 percent of the state's septic systems are frozen with the percentage expected to rise. In Crow Wing County about 600 systems are being pumped daily.
Espersen said while those pathogens may not exist in one individual's effluent, it could be in the neighborhood. And with frozen ground, what is pumped onto the surface is staying there. When the melt does come, Espersen said the effluent could get down into area wells. Other concerns come from where runoff may take the effluent in regard to area streams.
Recently an Aitkin County resident said pumping effluent above ground has not been an usual occurrence and the resident wondered what the big deal really was since the gray water would soak through the ground again anyway and, after all, it wasn't as if they were dealing with solid waste.
The concern is that adults, children or pets may walk through effluent as it moves about above ground. Contamination may result as people take off shoes and then absentmindedly rub their mouths or nose, or grab a quick bite to eat, allowing the pathogen into the body.
Officials suggest containing effluent on a flat area with sandbags and using snowfence, such as the orange plastic version and rebar, to enclose the area. Rebar use must be careful not to puncture a hole in the drain field pipes. Other stabilizers such as dock posts also may be used and assisted by sandbags.
County offices are willing to provide more information and assistance to avoid a potential health hazard this spring.
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