Over the past few years, septic tanks have been gaining more attention. There's an increasing awareness on the federal level of the need for increased regulation to govern permitting, maintaining, and operating onsite water disposal systems.

The onsite treatment industry is now facing a bevy of technical issues involving groundwater quality, such as discovering increased levels of pharmaceuticals and nitrates from poorly operated septic systems. Core to these discussions is the concern that septic systems must be durable and well-built.

While they may not get as much press as highways and bridges, septic tanks are an important market for the concrete production industry. According to the U.S. EPA, about ¼ of all homes use some sort of onsite treatment system. Most of these rely on traditional concrete units.

It's interesting how the onsite community has responded to this new attention. Hundreds of alternative systems have been introduced, most involving products other than concrete. There's an underlying message that concrete tank technology isn't the proper solution.

With a new team at EPA in Washington, D.C. now on board, our industry must be proactive in addressing these concerns. The real issue is, how should the onsite industry enact procedures that will upgrade the quality of onsite water treatment systems? Among the questions are how to prove septic tanks are durable, watertight, and strong.

In this tough economic environment, counties and municipalities are stretching to properly inspect new and existing septic systems. Their sanitarians are seeking new quality assurance programs that will ensure the safety of water resources.

The leadership at the National Precast Concrete Association (NPCA) should be recognized for its foresight in promoting concrete septic tanks. In spring 2008, the NPCA board of directors introduced the On-site Wastewater Accreditation Program.

Producers who participate will allow an independent third-party engineering firm to inspect their production methods for manufacturing onsite wastewater tanks. Approved precast plants will receive accreditation from NPCA, allowing them to add a symbol to the tanks they cast.

NPCA plans to market the accreditation program to municipalities, specifiers, regulators, developers, and homeowners. “This means precasters who make wastewater treatment products will have a nationwide quality assurance program to ensure end-users that their tanks are manufactured under strict quality standards,” said Ty Gable, NPCA president, in a note to his membership. The plastics and fiberglass industries do not have a comparable program, according to Gable.

NPCA's effort is a great, bold, and innovative move. Its effort should help position concrete as the preferred, sustainable material to ensure the quality of our nation's groundwater resources.

EDITOR IN CHIEF

ryelton@hanleywood.com

For more on NPCA's effort, visit its Web site at www.precast.org.