Preach Tank Security in the Wake of Another Child’s Death

Ask customers to periodically inspect their septic access points and never leave a job site with the tank inappropriately secured.

It’s more fun to report good news, but sometimes journalists — even trade publication editors — unfortunately have to dwell on bad news. In this instance, I hope that discussing the tragic death of children will somehow help bring a stop to a distressing pattern of unsecured septic tank lids in the United States.

The first time I wrote in Pumper about a young child falling into a septic tank and drowning was in April 2007. I will never forget about Loic J.M. Rogers, a 3-year-old Montana boy who died after he stepped on a plastic lid, flipping it, and fell to his death at his babysitter’s house. When the little boy disappeared, police searched far and wide, only to find him in the nearby tank. As it turned out, the homeowner knew the lid was damaged, but was unaware it posed a danger and failed to report it.

Several times since that precious little boy’s senseless death, new cases have prompted me to repeat a message about the importance of tank security for our pumper community in hopes that we could spread the message as an industry. Sadly, I’m still waiting for that message to take hold. And I’m still haunted by the memory of Rogers, who would be turning 18 this year.

The latest sad story comes out of Cape May, N.J., where another 3-year-old, this time a little girl named Emma, fell 10 feet into an unsecured septic tank at a campground and died. Like the Montana youngster, she stepped onto a lid that wasn’t secured properly and it flipped. This is according to a report in the Cape May Herald newspaper. A state Department of Environmental Protection report found multiple violations at the campground citing unsecured lids that were either cracked or had missing bolts or screws, news accounts stated. 


Pumper Wade Dooley and I have formed a cordial relationship over the years periodically discussing tank security. I first talked to the owner of Little Stinkers Septic Service and Portable Toilet Rentals in Bozeman, Montana, when he wrote a series of letters to the editors of area newspapers after Rogers died. It was his mission to bring light to this critical safety issue, never wanting to see another child die in such a way.

Back in 2007, Dooley shared this message with me, and I passed it along to Pumper readers to share with their customers:

“The loss of life should be a wakeup call for all of us. When it comes to septic tanks, we all must do our part in making sure that they are cleaned and operating correctly; not only for the protection of our groundwater and health. We must think safety. If you are unsure of the condition of your septic tank or lid, contact a licensed septic service to inspect your system. Meet with them and have them explain any potential problems. … Please add this to your family’s to-do list. It might save a life.’’

The advice remains just as important today. I went back in my files and saw that I repeated concerns about tank safety again in 2014 and 2018 as tragic incidents of child deaths in septic tanks continued. Each time I gave Dooley a call and we discussed ways to change this narrative. In the most recent case of the New Jersey girl, the story is the same.

“It’s a shame because these are 100% preventable deaths,” Dooley said when I caught up with him recently. He clearly remembers Loic Rogers the same way I do and we’re both fed up to keep reading about children losing their lives in a septic tank. “I think these homeowners and commercial property owners should be held accountable. They’re lucky it’s not criminal manslaughter, as [it] should be. It never ceases to amaze me what we see.”


I’m sure Dooley would join me in asking you to look for opportunities to educate your customers and the general public about septic tank security. Ask septic system owners to inspect their access points regularly and keep vehicle traffic away from risers and lids that could be damaged and create a safety hazard.

And for the pumpers, include tank security and work site safety as topics in your daily discussions with crew members. Preach about watching out for others when a tank is opened during a service call, and never leaving a job site without making sure lids are secured appropriately and secondary barriers are in place whenever possible. 

Putting this important safety issue into perspective, I will repeat another point Dooley made the first time I talked to him. It’s clear we need to keep talking about the issue until everyone conforms to commonsense safety standards.

“We have a hot tub outside and we lock the lid. When you have a swimming pool, you put a fence around it,’’ Dooley said. “Yet they put 1,000 gallons of septage out there and they treat it like it’s not a hazard.’’

Thank you for representing the wastewater industry in the face of misinformation

A few months ago I told you about a video on YouTube posted by an Idaho real estate agent, George Tallabas, entitled Don’t Pump Those Septic Tanks (see the video below). In it, Tallabas spread misinformation about septic system maintenance that would lead viewers to ignore their septic systems and result in costly repair or replacement scenarios. In what I called his “fake news” diatribe, Tallabas assured homeowners maintenance is completely unnecessary over the life of a septic system. He said he has lived in home with a septic systems for more than 50 years and has never had one pumped or inspected.

After my column, the pumping community mobilized into action to counteract Tallabas’ reckless statements. A few of you responded to me, while dozens of others went to the YouTube video and posted comments to inform viewers of the truth. Since I interviewed Tallabas and mentioned the video, thousands of people have checked it out on YouTube, and no small amount of pressure was put on Tallabas to rethink his stance … unfortunately to no avail.

Pumper reader Paul Studholme, a certified master septic inspector, wrote to me: 

“I have been inspecting septic systems for over 17 years and teach all my clients what I call Septic 101; how to look at their tank every couple of years to see if it’s leaking, backing up and how to test if the tank needs to be pumped. I would see if there was someone in George Tallabas’ area that would inspect his septic system so that it could be proven to him that a system needs to be pumped.”

Pumper Scott Youker said he hears folks repeat similar claims to Tallabas’ and he quickly sets them straight.

“Some of my customers tell me that and I reply to them that the septic tank is really just a big filter and, like the oil filter on their vehicles, it needs to be cleaned periodically. You don’t have to change/clean your oil filter, but catastrophic results will happen if you don’t.”

So many commonsense statements like these were added to the Tallabas video and you can search his name and read them yourself. The pumping professionals explained – over and over – how Tallabas was misinformed. And over and over, Tallabas said he was telling the truth and asked folks who disagreed with him to simply go away.

“You are doing a huge disservice to anyone with a septic tank by providing this completely false advice,” wrote Fred Luhn. Tallabas said bacteria in the tank break down all waste indefinitely, to which Luhn replied, “It’s this sludge that needs to be pumped out. The unicorns and fairies don’t take it away. The first law of physics — matter cannot be created nor destroyed. What do you think happens to the solids you flush?”

Pumper David Neu wrote: 

“It’s really quite simple. You can’t turn something into nothing, solids don’t just magically disappear because, ‘bacteria.’ The solids will continue to collect and despite what you think, you can’t keep all the harmful stuff out of your septic system, … inorganics like dirt, silt, sand, etc., hair rags, food scraps, grease and oil; most of this cannot or will not be broken down by the bacteria in your septic system. If you really want to know, ride along with your septic guy for a day or two. Your mind will most definitely be changed.”

J.J Tiemann added:

“He refuses to be educated by people who are current experts in the wastewater industry who work with septic systems on a daily basis. In the interest of homeowners and the groundwater of our planet, this guy should really consider providing current septic system information … or better yet, leave the septic ‘education’ to the current experts in the industry.”


Unfortunately, there are many people who — like Tallabas — feel free to broadcast their ignorant rantings regardless of the negative impact it might have on others. Folks like Tallabas will never stop to consider they’re wrong no matter how many pumpers or wastewater industry professionals try to set them straight. This is nothing new.

Perhaps Mike Stephens left the most interesting comment for Tallabas and those who have viewed his video when invoked a Biblical passage from Proverbs, “I would test the opinion of one person against the multitude of opposing opinions. ‘There is wisdom in a multitude of counselors.’”  


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