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Septic-system proposal guards public’s health

Here in Allen County, as in other counties across the state, the local health department is charged with enforcing public health laws and regulations issued by the Indiana State Department of Health. These laws and regulations involve everything from inspecting restaurants to certifying birth and death records. Some of the most maligned and misunderstood of these health laws are the ones pertaining to private septic systems.

A bill supported by the Allen County Board of Commissioners – Senate Bill 159 – is making its way through the Indiana General Assembly; it would help reinforce the rules pertaining to septic systems. The bill does not create any new rules or regulations. It simply clarifies and codifies into law what has already been decided by Indiana courts on multiple occasions.

Simply stated, the bill makes it law that all property owners must follow the applicable health and sanitation rules when installing a private septic system. The health department would continue to be responsible for making sure the regulations are followed and investigating complaints about systems that may not be in compliance.

If septic systems do not meet state regulations for proper installation and maintenance, they have the potential to contaminate our groundwater and pollute our waterways. Not only does untreated or undertreated sewage contain disease-causing bacteria such as E. coli, a significant danger to human health, it creates a common nuisance by attracting mosquitoes and other pests that often carry diseases. There is a reason why sewage runoff from failing septic systems is one of the most common complaints received by county health departments.

Opponents of this bill have tried to portray it as an affront to property rights and religious beliefs. Others claim it is simply a way to extract more money from the public. But the purpose of regulating the design, installation and maintenance of septic systems is not to collect fees; nor hassle property owners; nor persecute those who believe such regulations run contrary to their religious teachings. It is to prevent a public health nuisance, one that has the potential to continually affect people and the environment.

Public health laws exist for the benefit of all residents of our community. To help ensure that the regulations that pertain to septic systems are followed by everyone, the Allen County Board of Commissioners urges members of the Indiana General Assembly to pass Senate Bill 159.

Linda Bloom (left above), Therese Brown and Nelson Peters are Allen County commissioners. They wrote this for The Journal Gazette.