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Frequently Asked Questions


The Environmental Health office receives many questions regarding OSSMS. Listed below are the most frequently asked questions, and the detailed answers to those questions, our environmentalists encounter in this program.

How was the capacity of my septic tank determined when the house was built? - Current regulations specify that the minimum capacity of a septic tank for a 1, 2, 3, or 4 bedroom residence is 1000 gallons. Above 4 bedrooms, the capacity should be increased by 250 gallons per additional bedroom. Furthermore, if a garbage grinder/disposal is used, this capacity should be increased by 50%.

What is a "T"? - A "T" is a structure on both ends of the tank designed to direct the flow of septage. On the inlet side, it prevents the disturbance of the contents of the tank. At the outlet, it prevents solids from flowing out of the septic tank, and into the absorption field.

Should every septic tank have an effluent filter? - A filter is required on the outlet end of two (2) compartment septic tanks. Filters are not recommended on single compartment septic tanks.

Should the contractor I hire have a permit to pump out my septic tank? - A contractor, certified by the Department of Human Resources (DHR), does not need to contact the Clayton County Board of Health to receive a permit each time a client asks to have their septic tank pumped. However, a permit must be issued by the Clayton County Board of Health if absorption field repairs are needed.

How do I find out the capacity of my septic tank? - The Clayton County Board of Health may have a copy of the Inspection Report from when your OSSMS was installed. This report should state the capacity of your septic tank as well as the location of the absorption field. Additionally, your contractor may be able to determine this for you.

The contractor stated that they did not need to dig up and remove the lid on both ends of the tank to pump it out. Is this true? - No, our office recommends the removal of both lids as the contractor should: 1) Ensure that nothing is clogging either "T," 2) Check the structural integrity of both "T's," and 3) Clean the filter in the outlet "T" if present.

The contractor stated that I had to have a repair or the Clayton County Board of Health would condemn my home. Is this true? - If a situation is found, which is causing an imminent health hazard, the Clayton County Board of Health will ask that you abate the hazard. There may even be administrative or legal ramifications for those who choose not to repair their OSSMS. However, the condemnation of a house is extremely rare and used only as a last resort. Contact the Environmental Health Specialist assigned to your case to discuss possible repair options. Our office will work with you, as much as possible, to help determine which option is most appropriate solution for your unique situation.

I had my tank pumped a week ago and it is full again. Is there a problem? - Once the tank reaches its operating capacity, each gallon of sewage in forces a gallon of effluent out to the absorption field. However, if effluent surfaces in the yard or backs up into your home, a problem may exist. Contact the Clayton County Environmental Health Office for an evaluation.

How much should it cost to have my septic tank pumped? - due to free enterprise, our office cannot regulate cost of services. There are, however, many surcharges that can greatly increase the total cost of this service. Please see the Septic Tank Maintenance Brochure (make link feature to brochure) for further explanation of these surcharges. Also, be sure to have an understanding with your contractor as to what you are paying for and that they should receive your approval prior to performing any actions that would increase the cost of the service. Lastly, we recommend that you receive quotes from at least three (3) different companies so that you can determine what is considered a "fair" price.

How do I determine if I have a single compartment or a two compartment septic tank? - the newer two compartment septic tanks were introduced around 1998 to 2000. Therefore, if your septic tank was installed before then, it is probably a single compartment tank. If it was installed more recently, it is probably a two compartment tank. Additionally, this can be easily determined by your contractor within minutes of beginning to pump out the tank.

My house was built 30 years ago. Now that the septic system has failed, why do I have to bring it up to code? Isn't it "grandfathered"? - as long as a septic system is functioning properly and not causing an imminent health hazard, our office does not mandate upgrades to existing septic systems when there is a change to our regulations. When that system fails, however, the new septic system must meet current code no matter how old the residence is. In other words, the original system is "grandfathered" and does not have to be altered when the regulations change until it fails and a new system has to be installed.

My contractor recommended a new absorption field, but not a new septic tank. Should the tank be replaced as well? - our office does not usually recommend the installation of a new septic tank as long as the original tank is structurally sound. However, if there are holes or cracks in the tank, then replacement is necessary. Lastly, if a shallow water table is identified during the repair process and your original tank was not sealed, our office may recommend a new sealed septic tank to keep the underground water from entering the system and contributing to an early failure.

As long as the sewage is not surfacing in my yard or backing-up into my home, the septic system is working properly … right? - not necessarily. Current regulations call for minimum separation from restrictive layers such as rock formations and water tables. If we put contaminants directly into the water table, or in areas where the septage will not be properly treated before it enters the water table, these same contaminants can then enter our drinking water or harm our environment. This is why we must take these factors into account, and bring these older systems up to current code, when repairing a failing system.

Has public sewer been extended so that it is now available? - the public sewer infrastructure is solely maintained by the Clayton County Water Authority. Their Engineering Department can best serve to determine the feasibility of tapping into the sewer system and can be reached by calling (770)961-2330. Additionally, if the public sewer infrastructure is accessible and within 200 feet of your property, current regulations mandate that connection be made when the existing OSSMS fails. This is a permanent solution for properly treating the wastewater generated by daily use as proper function of an OSSMS cannot be guaranteed.

There is a drawing of the house and the septic system on the Inspection Report. Is this drawing to scale? - While our environmentalists strive to create a professional rendering of the site, this drawing is not to scale.

Will using an additive increase the life span of my septic system? - Additives can be found at most general retail stores. Additionally, some contractors recommend additives to their clients. This may be either a one time "starter" or a monthly "treatment." Neither the state Department of Human Resources, nor the Clayton County Board of Health, recommend the use of additives. There has not been definitive research provided which proves that any additive benefits a system as a whole. Please remember, your system consists not only of a tank but also an absorption field. And what may seem to benefit the septic tank may harm the absorption field.

My septic tank is failing. Why is system failure a public health concern? - partially treated septage contains many bacteria, viruses, and parasites (links to "Signs of Failure" section for more information on these) which are a direct cause of many illnesses. Systems that fail for any period of time are a hazard not only to the occupant(s), but their neighbors and the environment, and should be corrected immediately.

What if I refuse to fix my failing system? - while enforcement is the most unpleasant duty that our environmentalists perform, it can be a necessity if the owner of a failing system refuses to abate the health hazard. Additionally, as the Board of Health's regulations have been adopted as County Ordinances, violations of said ordinances are misdemeanors and can result in a fine of up to $1,000.00 per day per offense and/or 30 days in jail.

Why are septic systems much more costly than paying a monthly fee for sewer service? - many septic systems are actually less expensive than sewer. However, homeowners usually experience "sticker shock" when they see the upfront installation costs. However, on-going costs are drastically less. Please see the following example of a conventional septic system with regular maintenance versus sewer service assuming that the household uses 10,000 gallons of water per month and the disposal fee is $4.50 per 1,000 gallons:

Septic System Sewer System
Permit Fee (repair) $75.00 Tap/Impact Fee: $2,864.00
Installation 6,000.00 Installation: 1,500.00
Cost - Year 1 (maintenance) 150.00 Cost - Year 1 (disposal fee) 540.00
Cost - Year 2 (maintenance) 150.00 Cost - Year 2 (disposal fee) 540.00
Cost - Year 3 (maintenance) 150.00 Cost - Year 3 (disposal fee) 540.00
Cost - Year 4 (maintenance) 150.00 Cost - Year 4 (disposal fee) 540.00
Cost - Year 5 (maintenance) 150.00 Cost - Year 5 (disposal fee) 540.00
5 Year Total $6,825.00 5 Year Total $7,064.00

 

Tap and impact fees vary as do the installation costs of septic systems. While initial costs of a septic system may vary depending upon soil conditions and other factors as do water consumption, treating the sewage generated by the household on-site rather than through the sewer system can be cost effective with proper maintenance and wise water usage practices.

 

Clayton County Board of Health
Office of Environmental Health Services

685 Forest Parkway, Forest Park, GA 30297
Phone: (678) 610-7469   Fax: (770) 603-4874