Public health officials with the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services are warning that the heavy rains and flooding from Hurricane Florence may cause major problems with septic systems.
To prevent sewage contamination, which can lead to disease transmission, affected people not served by central wastewater systems should check to ensure that their systems are not backing up, allowing sewage to surface or otherwise malfunctioning. They should also prepare to take the following precautions:
~Wastewater systems may not work until floodwaters recede and the water table drops below the septic tank and drain field trenches. A septic system will not function in a flooded yard and should not be used.
~Do NOT continue to use water if sewage backs up into the house or if water or sewage surfacing near the septic system is visible — raw sewage is a public health problem and can cause disease.
~Remove and discard household goods that become contaminated with sewage and cannot be disinfected, such as rugs, wall coverings and drywall. Wear rubber boots and waterproof gloves when cleaning up sewage.
~If a wastewater system depends on a pump, it will not operate properly if the system controls were flooded or when the power is out. People should use extreme water conservation practices until flood waters recede and the pump is confirmed to be working properly after power is restored. These practices include flushing toilets only when necessary, taking sponge baths and not running water while brushing teeth, shaving or cleaning dishes.
~When power to the system is restored and flood waters recede, the pump system’s high-water alarm may sound. If the alarm does not stop sounding, or if the system does not appear to be working properly in some other way, contact the system operator, installer or local health department. Repairs may be necessary prior to returning to normal water use, possibly by an electrician if the sewage system’s electrical control panel was submerged or if the service connection sustained physical damage.
~Most septic tanks are not damaged by a flood because they are below ground and completely covered. However, septic tanks or pump chambers can become filled with debris. Reduce the amount of debris such as yard waste, cleanup materials and sediment that may enter the septic tank and plumbing systems.
~Debris removal activities may damage a septic system. Vehicles can crush drain fields, tanks and distribution boxes, especially when the soil is saturated. If a person suspects that their septic tank is damaged, they should call a professional to inspect, service and clean it, and contact their local health department if the system needs to be repaired.
The Division of Public Health’s Environmental Health Section has more information available online. People with questions or concerns about their on-site wastewater system should contact the environmental health section at their local health department.
Photo of Hurricane Florence flood waters in Woodlake area courtesy of Cypress Pointe Fire and Recue.