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EPA’s Eighth Annual SepticSmart Week: Safeguard Your Family’s Health, Protect the Environment and Save Money

EPA Provides Training to More Than 35 Municipalities in Puerto Rico

09/17/2020
Contact Information: 
Brenda Reyes (reyes.brenda@epa.gov)
787-977-5869

San Juan, Puerto Rico - This week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)—with support from state and local governments, the private sector, communities and academia—kicked-off its eighth annual SepticSmart Week. SepticSmart Week 2020 encourages homeowners, wastewater professionals and local officials to design and maintain effective septic systems to safeguard public health, protect the environment and save money.

EPA is working to help make septic systems more sustainable and resilient as part of its work to support disaster recovery in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands (USVI) from the long-term impacts from Hurricanes Irma and Maria. In 2019, EPA helped form the Caribbean Septic Systems Workgroup (CSSW), which engages communities, non-profit organizations, and government agencies to bring about real solutions for the residents of Puerto Rico and the USVI. In celebration of EPA’s Septic Smart Week, EPA’s Region 2 Caribbean Division is hosting a meeting of the Caribbean Septic Systems Workgroup on September 18 focused on important recovery actions and initiatives related to septic systems in Puerto Rico. This Workgroup includes representatives from local and federal agencies, non-government organizations, professional associations, academia, communities, and the private sector. 

EPA recently invested $50,000 of contract support to build septic systems management capability in Puerto Rico by developing a proposed framework for a geospatial tool that will help to build capacity for environmental and public health analysis of current and future locations of septic systems, as well as considerations for the new Puerto Rico Building Code compliance assistance and enforcement. In addition, EPA Region 2 recently organized a webinar with RCAP Solutions focused on how communities can find funding and technical resources for septic systems’ design, construction, operations, and maintenance directed at Puerto Rico’s municipalities. The webinar, which was held on September 11, had more than 75 participants representing 35 of the island’s municipalities. 

“EPA’s annual SepticSmart Week provides an important reminder to maintain septic systems, which many individuals and communities rely on to safely manage wastewater,” said EPA Assistant Administrator for Water David Ross. “EPA’s simple tips to help septic systems operate properly will help protect public health and the environment while preventing costly repairs.”

“Over 40 percent of the population living in Puerto Rico and over 50% of the population in the USVI rely upon septic systems to dispose of domestic wastewaters. These systems are often used because they are cheaper, and sewage systems or piping are not located nearby, but when not properly installed or monitored septic systems can pose a threat to groundwater and sensitive environments like karst terrain,” said EPA Regional Administrator Pete Lopez. “The Septic Systems Workgroup has allowed us to poll resources to help provide community-driven solutions to areas that struggle with septic systems that can negatively impact communities across Puerto Rico.”

EPA’s SepticSmart initiative is a nationwide public education effort that offers educational resources to homeowners, local organizations and government leaders to explain how septic systems work and provide tips on how to properly maintain them. Organizations and individuals wishing to engage in SepticSmart Week 2020 are encouraged to promote public awareness about the event and share helpful tips, such as:

 Think at the Sink! What goes down the drain has a big impact on septic systems. Fats, grease and solids can clog a system’s pipes and drainfield.

  • Don’t Overload the Commode! A toilet is not a trash can. Do not flush non-degradable items such as dental floss, diapers, wipes and hygiene products – they can damage a septic system.
  • Don’t Strain Your Drain! Use water efficiently and stagger use of water-based appliances. Too much water use at once can overload a system that hasn’t been pumped recently.
  • Shield Your Field! Tree and shrub roots, cars and livestock can damage your septic drainfield.
  • Keep It Clean! Contamination can occur if a septic system leaks due to improper maintenance. Regular testing can help ensure that your drinking water is safe.
  • Protect It and Inspect It! Regular septic system maintenance can save homeowners thousands of dollars in repairs and protect public health.
  • Pump Your Tank! Ensure your septic tank is pumped at regularly intervals as recommended by a professional and/or local permitting authority. 

For more information, visit www.epa.gov/septic for resources and information, including recently released Quick Tip Videos.

 Background

More than one-fifth of U.S. households utilize an individual onsite system or small community cluster septic system to treat their wastewater. These systems treat and dispose of relatively small volumes of wastewater and include a wide range of individual and cluster treatment options to process household and commercial sewage. These systems go by such names as septic, decentralized wastewater treatment, cluster, package plants, on-lot, individual sewage disposal, and private sewage.

Onsite systems provide a cost-effective, long-term option for treating wastewater, particularly in sparsely populated areas. When properly installed, operated, and maintained, these systems help protect public health and a community’s water resources.

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