Thursday, January 21, 2010

Commonwealth of Virginia HB 332 Alternative Onsite Sewage Systems-Improving the Emergency AOSS Regulations

On October 28, 2009 the Virginia Department of Health published their long awaited and needed Emergency Alternative Onsite Septic System, AOSS, regulations after public comment. The purpose of these regulations is to ensure that these more effective treatment systems are designed and installed appropriately and maintained in a manner to allow them to function properly to be protective of the environment and public health.

For single family homes the new Emergency AOSS regulations require that these tested and approved systems are installed with conservative horizontal set backs, are operated and maintained by a licensed operator, grab samples taken by a licensed operator every five years (and analyzed by an EPA certified laboratory), and an operating manual and records need to be maintained on site.

HB 332 maintains the essential point of the regulations that these effective AOSS are maintained in a manner that makes them function properly for the protection of the environment and public health. However, this bill prevents the Department of Health from requiring routine sampling and analysis of single family AOSS with flows of less than 1,000 gallons a day. The sampling required under the Emergency Regulations was without technical merit or standard protocol. The sampling was statistically invalid, and potentially counter productive to the safety of the system. Developing an effective sampling protocol is impossible because the end of treatment for many AOSS systems is below ground surface and above groundwater. A monitoring well would remain dry and incapable of being sampled. Even if there were a way to sample the effluent at the end of treatment, testing of a septic system operation at a single point in time every five years can be impacted by volume, load, temperature and humidity and is not representative of overall performance. Results from a single test taken every five years can be expected normally to vary from acceptable overall average results and so are statistically misleading and not representative of sound sampling methods.

HB 332 also creates a provision in the law allowing for a homeowner to become trained to operate their own system. This would minimize the burden on many homeowners who are currently fully capable of operating and maintaining their systems or who can be trained to do so and is more in keeping with Virginia’s history and traditions of individual responsibility and self-reliance. Self regulation is a proven and effective model that can work here. Also, HB 332 would allow all Professional Engineers, registered environmental health specialists/sanitarians, authorized onsite soil evaluator or wastewater works operators licensed in the Commonwealth of Virginia to operate and maintain their own single family AOSS without further training.

Finally, HB 332 requires all field technicians working for a licensed operator to be trained to an adequate level to properly maintain the AOSS. This is to prevent licensed operators from hiring untrained and unqualified workers to respond to mandated demand and creates a minimum level of knowledge necessary for anyone working on an AOSS to ensure that these systems are maintained according to manufacturers’ guidelines.

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