Michigan Pumpers Discuss Keys to Business Longevity After 75 Years in the Industry

With 75 years in business under their belts, Michigan’s DeJonghe family continues to make strides in pumping safety, new marketing and advocating for the industry.
Michigan Pumpers Discuss Keys to Business Longevity After 75 Years in the Industry
Matt and Misty DeJonghe may be reached at 517/451-5055.

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In the beginning, pumping outhouses and installing homemade septic tanks supported Morris DeJonghe’s family in the village of Britton, Mich. Begun in 1937, his business passed to the third generation in 2002, becoming Matt DeJonghe Septic Tank Cleaning Service. The company pumps septic tanks and inspects onsite systems in Lenawee and Monroe Counties and lower Washtenaw County.

DeJonghe’s wife, Misty, became vice president of operations in 2011 and launched a marketing campaign. She used 15 years as a home care administrator to prepare a manual of standard operating procedures and a blood-borne exposure safety plan to meet state and federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations. She also teaches blood-borne pathogen certification classes for pumpers, explaining pathogens, outlining precautions, and showing a short movie.

The couple belongs to the Michigan Septic Tank Association, where Misty DeJonghe serves on the board of directors and the onsite wastewater conference committee. She also is liaison between Lenawee County septage haulers, the state Department of Environmental Protection and the county drain commissioner.

In 2012, the company celebrated its 75th anniversary, making it the oldest sanitation business in Lenawee County. “We’re still here because the family is resilient,” says Misty DeJonghe. “Our grandparents taught us to be responsible for our bills, to work hard, to be proud of our efforts so others will notice, and that opportunities to service customers never wait.”

Pumper talked to Misty DeJonghe about various initiatives that raise the professionalism, safety practices and reputation of the family company:

Pumper: What are some of your advertising strategies?

DeJonghe: Besides a Web page and newspapers ads, I leave candy dishes with the company logo at real estate offices and businesses. If I visit the doctor or cosmetologist, the garage mechanic, or dine out, I leave business cards on tables and counters. I pin company fliers to cork boards at supermarkets. Marketing constantly wherever I go has brought in many new customers.

The family never used to mail reminder cards for pump-outs. Since implementing the procedure, our response rate is 75 percent. I always write a note mentioning the date of the last service because people forget how many years have passed.

Promoting the company has generated six to eight hours of work every day. Matt only has help when my 17-year-old nephew, Tyler Soss, is out of school. I tried riding with Matt, but running the office from the truck is difficult because of the noise. We have enough work to hire a full-time employee, but we don’t want to buy another truck. Our goal is to run the business with family members.

Pumper: Why are you adamant that pumpers wear personal safety equipment?

DeJonghe: Pumpers don’t understand that every day they risk their lives. Microorganisms are responsible for more than 90 percent of reported waterborne disease outbreaks in the United States, and the most frequently reported source of contamination is sewage from septic tanks, leaking sewer lines, and cesspools. Human waste can cause typhoid fever, paratyphoid, dysentery, gastroenteritis, cholera, and polio. Almost 10 percent of outbreaks are caused by hepatitis A, formerly called infectious hepatitis.

Our huge immigrant population puts pumpers at risk for hepatitis A, B, and C. Experts don’t know how long hepatitis C remains dormant in or out of the body. It’s still a mysterious, lethal disease with no vaccine. We are immunized for hepatitis A and B, and I strongly recommend it for all pumpers.

The two most common parasites found in septic tanks are tapeworm segments and roundworm eggs. Hospice has enabled many elderly or sick people to die at home, and send blood-borne pathogens to the septic tank. As methamphetamine production proliferates, pumpers risk exposure to hazardous chemicals.

Pumper: What safety equipment do you recommend and why?

DeJonghe: Splashback and cuts from say a broken hose clamp are the two ways contagions can enter our bodies. We use industrial mid-length rubber gauntlet gloves with cuffs to protect against splashback running down inside the gloves and into cuts. Even dishwashing gloves are better than no protection because hand washing leaves skin dried and cracked. Cracks are entry points for disease.

After storing the hose, we cleanse our hands with disinfectant wipes followed by hand sanitizer. It may seem like overkill, but it isn’t. I’ve seen too many industrial patients who didn’t take precautions and became seriously ill.

We wear an inexpensive particulate respirator or dust mask while pumping and discharging to protect our noses and mouths from splashback if a hose cracks. Wraparound safety glasses shield our eyes. Regular glasses don’t protect the sides of your head from splashback, and contagions will enter through tear ducts.

Our standard footwear is water-resistant work boots with rubber soles. Steel toes are unnecessary, but water-resistant leather will prevent spillage from seeping through to the skin. The only time we allow shorts instead of trousers is on days with a threat of heatstroke.

Pumper: What was involved in writing your systemization manual?

DeJonghe: Michigan OSHA requires every business—no matter how small—to have the manual and a blood-borne exposure safety plan. Our 100-page plan details the procedure if splashback touches skin or someone is cut. It took three months to complete because of all the documentation, but the actual procedure is one page. I went on the federal and state OSHA websites, compared information, and called both agencies when I didn’t understand something. It was challenging, but worth it because our company is compliant.

Companies need a procedures manual to show they are compliant in case of an audit. Furthermore, if something happens to key personnel, the manual spells out what has to be done and how. I had Matt tell me step-by-step what he does from the time he walks into the office to the time he returns with the truck. Then I repeated the process for office work. I found references all over the Internet on how to set up a systemization manual. Ours is 35 pages and it took me four months to complete.

Pumper: How did you become a liaison between Lenawee County septage haulers and regulators, and what is your role?

DeJonghe: At the 2011 MSTA conference, the haulers said they needed a spokesperson and talked me into doing it. The job is occasionally challenging, but mostly rewarding. I filter complaints to Matt Campbell or Ebi Burutolu at the DEQ, drain commissioner Steve May, wastewater treatment plant director Tom Gillenwater, or Martha Hall at the county health department. We’re very lucky because they work with us, creating a level of cooperation not seen in other counties.

Pumper: What were some major issues?

DeJonghe: The biggest were with the Lenawee County Wastewater Treatment Plant. Haulers couldn’t offload in the evenings or on weekends, and wanted a card-activated gate installed to do so. Customer addresses were left in an unlocked box, and haulers had reason to believe that someone was taking them and soliciting their clients. They also reported water leaking by the fuse box in the reception area. I wrote a proposal and worked with Steve May and Tom Gillenwater to fix the leak and install a lockbox and access gate. Things are running a lot smoother now.

Our next goal is to repeal the state requirement for haulers to offload at a wastewater treatment plant if they are within a 25-mile radius of one. They want to land-apply because it lowers the cost of pump-outs, conserves fuel, and reduces depreciation on their trucks. It’s a long-range objective, but we’re hoping minds will change as treatment plants reach capacity; but septage continues to arrive and increase in volume.

Pumper: How has your MSTA membership helped the company?

DeJonghe: I had no clue what to do when I entered the business, especially when it came to dealing with regulatory issues. Members answered questions and put me in touch with Ebi Burutolu, who explained the regulations we had to meet and how to keep the records.

MSTA also is at the forefront of new legislation, helping to pass bills that protect the rights of haulers. I was never involved in politics until I joined the association and learned how important it was to participate. Last year, I even helped with a meet-and-greet at the capital, and made enough of an impression on our district’s state Senator for him to send a letter congratulating us on our 75th anniversary. I can’t thank MSTA or the DEP enough for helping us achieve our present status.


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