Innovation, Regulations and Training Will Move Installers Forward

Here’s a grab bag of news and views to get important conversations started in the onsite wastewater community

It’s the dawn of a new year and time to clean out the reporter’s notebook. As I page through the reams of stories I didn’t get to address in the last quarter of 2020, I’ll choose a few topics for discussion moving forward. If you have anything to add about these quick takes, let me know at As always, I appreciate your commentary and insights over changes in the decentralized wastewater industry.

Tougher inspections in watersheds

Environmental groups in South Carolina want to lobby state health officials for a say in revised septic system regulations. And their requested changes will help onsite installers down the road. According to a Live TV-5 News report out of Charleston, South Carolina, three groups are teaming up to advocate for tougher regulations to protect sensitive watershed areas.

“What we’d like to see is a robust inspection, maintenance and reporting program for septic tanks. We would also like to see DHEC (state Department of Health and Environmental Control) focusing its resources in the areas where folks are most infected by bacteria pollution and that’s in waterways that have documented problems with bacteria,” said Andrew Wunderley, the Charleston Waterkeeper.

Wunderley said he, along with the Coastal Conservation League and the South Carolina Environmental Law Project, have concerns about poorly maintained septic systems in the state. They are circulating a petition concerning revised regulations.

In my regular talks with onsite installers, I see an industry-wide frustration over substandard system regulations. The pervasive lack of maintenance and inspection requirements leads to failing systems and an unfounded feeling among the general public that decentralized wastewater treatment is somehow inferior to municipal sewer systems.

This is far from accurate. The effectiveness of any wastewater treatment choice, either septic systems or a municipal plant, depends on routine performance monitoring and maintenance when necessary. Municipal sewer systems have these important maintenance protocols in place. It’s long past the time when septic systems face the same rigorous performance standards.

When sewer systems and septic systems are on a level playing field, they prove to be equally effective tools for wastewater treatment. In any situation, one or the other form of wastewater treatment will present the best choice.

Addressing concrete corrosion

A research university with campuses in Australia, Vietnam and Spain recently announced the development of a new concrete formulation that will eliminate the corrosion that impacts some sewer pipes and septic tanks. Researchers at RMIT University say it is an eco-friendly and zero-cement formulation. The news is interesting in light of many reports from pumpers and installers of corrosion in septic tanks thought to be caused by long-term exposure to hydrogen sulfide gas.

“The world’s concrete sewage pipes have suffered durability issues for too long,” said Rajeev Roychand, who leads the research team. “Until now, there was a large research gap in developing eco-friendly material to protect sewers from corrosion and fatbergs (buildups of fat, oils and grease). But we’ve created concrete that’s protective, strong and environmental — the perfect trio.”

Byproducts of the manufacturing industry are used in the cement-free concrete, including a composite of nano-silica, fly ash, slag and hydrated lime. Missing from the formula is the common Portland cement, said Roychand.

Roychand reported the new concrete will reduce corrosion in sewage applications by 96%. The research team is currently looking for manufacturers and governments to work with to produce the product. We’ll stay tuned for future developments.

Industry pay numbers

A recent analysis of data from the American Community Survey on the growth in construction-related occupations came to an interesting conclusion: Driving wages up in a trade sector such as onsite installing requires more training and certifications to go to work. The website reflected on construction specialties and worker pay and concluded that raising industry standards will raise wages.

“There appears to be a relationship between an occupation’s pay grade and the level of skill or technical expertise it requires. The highest-paying occupations often require specialized training, licenses or certifications to demonstrate an understanding of the trade and command a premium in the market,” buildzoom reported. It said occupations with lower barrier to entry, such as floor and drywall installers, painters and roofers, suffer with lower pay.

A two-year-old survey of employment and wages by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics appeared to lump installer-related workers into the construction laborer category. It stated the mean hourly wage for workers who help with excavations and site preparation was $19.40 per hour or $40,350 per year. That number varied widely by state, with Illinois workers making a high average of $28.83 per hour ($59,960), while the same workers in Texas earned, on average, $15.60 per hour ($32,630).

The bottom line is installing companies looking to boost the proficiency of their crews through training and certification will also pay a premium to keep them on the job. In the long run you can assume better-trained workers will be more efficient, do a better job and improve on your reputation for quality workmanship.

Nazi messages on a septic tank

A Florida installer company recently endured a nightmare public relations scenario for its business. A WINK-TV news report said a septic system inspector found Nazi swastika symbols painted on the side of septic tanks that had just gone in the ground in southwest Florida. The inspector reported recently finding three of the racist symbols painted on septic tanks, two of them traced to the same Naples, Florida, installing company.

A Jewish rabbi was outraged. “This is not a minor act. The swastika is a symbol of intense hate that connects with the Holocaust and the extermination of 6 million Jews and 5 million other individuals at the hands of the Nazis,” Rabbi Adam Miller said in the news report.

How could an installer company anticipate having to deal with this kind of a story and the backlash to follow? It’s inconceivable that an onsite worker would do something like this. The owner of the company said the employee who painted the swastikas was terminated immediately.


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