Rules and Regs: Minnesota Agency Proposing to Ban the “Flushable” Label on Wipes Products

In this month's regulations update, Hawaii bans new cesspools, Rhode Island wants drug companies to pay for the disposal of waste from cancer patients, and the MPCA seeks to label wipes “Do not flush.”
Rules and Regs: Minnesota Agency Proposing to Ban the “Flushable” Label on Wipes Products

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The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has proposed a ban on labeling wipes as being flushable or safe for septic or sewer systems. Instead, those products would be required to carry a label saying “Do not flush.” MPCA will seek legislation to enact the ban this year. In its proposal, the agency says, “Disposable wipes — used for changing diapers, personal hygiene, housecleaning and more — cause major problems when flushed down toilets. Because they don’t break down the way toilet paper does, these wipes clog homeowner and municipal sewer pipes, put stress on community wastewater collection and treatment equipment, and cause cities to spend thousands on premature equipment repair and replacement. Wipes snag on any imperfection in sewer pipes, catch passing debris and grease, and create a ‘ball’ that will grow to plug the pipe.”

Four Minnesota cities are involved in a class-action lawsuit against wipe manufacturers. A federal judge last October put six such lawsuits on hold, saying the government should determine the meaning of “flushable.” Weeks later, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission finalized a consent order that required Nice-Pak Products to stop advertising that its moist tissue and cloth products are flushable or are safe for sewer and septic systems unless it can substantiate the claims.

Small Minnesota town required to bring septic systems up to code to avoid fines
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency says it won’t fine the unincorporated community of Reading for violating pollution laws over many years. The town has no sewer system, and only one of its 52 properties has a compliant septic system. A notice of violation was issued in 2012 and MPCA says it won’t issue fines as long as the town shows it is trying to solve the problem. Most sewage flows through a tile system and into a creek. The community is petitioning for a sewer district to help garner grant money for a centralized sewer system, though people who have or install a compliant septic system would not be required to hook up.

Hawaii governor bans new cesspools
With the swipe of his pen on March 11, Hawaii Governor David Ige has banned new cesspools in the state. The Hawaii State Department of Health has been trying to enact the ban for a few years; former governor Neil Abercrombie did not sign a previous version of the new administrative rules before leaving office in December 2014.

Hawaii is the last state to enact a ban on new cesspools. They have been allowed on most of Hawaii Island and parts of Maui and Molokai. There are about 88,000 in operation and the state has been approving about 800 new cesspools annually. According to a DOH announcement of the signing, “Cesspools provide no treatment, and inject about 55 million gallons of raw sewage into Hawaii’s groundwater every day, potentially spreading diseases and harming the quality of drinking water supplies and recreational waters.”

The new rules also implement the 2015 law providing a tax credit of up to $10,000 to upgrade cesspools to septic systems or connect to a sewer system. That credit only applies to those within 200 feet of the ocean, streams or marsh areas, or near drinking water sources. There is a limit of $5 million in credits annually. Opponents of the ban have argued that many homeowners won’t be able to afford the $20,000 to $30,000 cost of a septic system. They say a cesspool can be installed for around $3,000.

Plan in development to reduce phosphorus in Lake Erie
The U.S. and Canadian governments have agreed to develop plans to reduce phosphorus runoff in Lake Erie over the next two years to cut down on algae blooms. Fertilizers and livestock manure from farms are cited as the primary source of phosphorus, though it can also come from wastewater treatment plants and failed septic systems. The agreement calls for a 40 percent reduction in phosphorus in the central and western sections of Lake Erie, which were hit with large algae blooms in the last few years.

Long Island county enacts new licensing rules
Suffolk County on New York’s Long Island has recognized the Long Island Liquid Waste Association (LILWA) certification training and continuing education as the basis for new licensing requirements for Liquid Waste License holders. New rules also require license holders to apply for endorsements for any specialized services they provide, effective June 23, 2016.

There are 11 license endorsement categories ranging from septic tank, portable restroom and grease trap servicing to conventional or alternative system installers and service providers. A two-year license comes at a cost of $400 and includes one endorsement. Each additional endorsement is $200.

Many of the endorsements will be covered by the LILWA training. Other required training includes OSHA 10-hour general industry online training (portable restroom operators), a two-day conventional inspection class (conventional system inspectors), and a one-day Innovative and Alternative (I/A) Treatment System class (I/A installers and service providers, which also must be certified by the manufacturer of the technology being used).

Septic lottery will award free advanced treatment systems
Suffolk County is also conducting its second septic lottery. The county, which makes up most of Long Island, has been trying to reduce nitrogen pollution in its waters. About 70 percent of the county is served by onsite systems, and it would cost $9 billion to provide public sewer service to everyone. Winners of the lottery get a free advanced wastewater treatment system, including installation, monitoring and maintenance for five years. The county had a similar contest in 2014 and gave away 19 systems valued at up to $16,000 each; more than 150 people entered the random drawing. The county will decide how many systems to give away this year based on responses to a request for equipment donations from manufacturers.

Rhode Island proposes law that makes drug companies responsible for human waste containing toxic cancer drugs
A law proposed in Rhode Island would require pharmaceutical companies to pay the cost of collecting and disposing human waste from cancer patients treated with toxic drugs. Companion bills of the Safe Cytotoxic Waste Disposal Act have been introduced in both the state’s Senate and House. While other states have regulations concerning disposal of drugs and medicines, the National Conference of State Legislatures says this is the only bill ever introduced to regulate collection of human waste that may contain the drugs. The act would establish a stewardship program starting July 1, 2017, funded by drug companies, to cover the estimated $8 million annual cost of collecting human waste for proper treatment and disposal in order to prevent the toxic substances from getting into the environment from sewer or septic systems.

Mississippi moves septic inspection documentation online
Due to budget cuts, the Mississippi Health Department has instituted an online system to schedule and document septic system applications and inspections. Rather than needing to go to an office to set up a soil test, it can be scheduled online. Inspectors have also been equipped with tablet computers to document the tests and develop system recommendations, which will be emailed to the consumer. Once the system is installed, the homeowner can contact the local health department for a final inspection.

Some septic installations subject to sales tax in North Carolina
Some septic system installations are now subject to sales and use tax in North Carolina under changes that took effect on March 1. The changes have caused a lot of confusion among businesspeople in the state.

The sales tax must be charged if a business qualifies as a “retailer” under the law; meaning “the majority of their revenue is from retailing tangible personal property, digital property or services to consumers.” The Department of Revenue publication uses an example of a septic installer with $5 million in revenue, of which $4 million is from the retail sale of septic system components and $1 million is from installation charges: “The person’s revenue is comprised 80% from retail sales of component parts. Effective March 1, 2016, the person is deemed to be in ‘retail trade;’ therefore, the person is a retailer and must treat all sales transactions as retail sales … no matter that prior the business was permitted to operate as a retailer-contractor. The total sales price of installed septic tanks on or after March 1, 2016, is subject to sales tax in the same manner as the sale of any components sold at retail.”

In another example, however, it states, “A person engaged solely in the business of installing and repairing inground septic tank systems is a real property contractor. The person is not a retailer of repair, maintenance and installation services, no matter that the person may charge a fee for troubleshooting a problem with the septic tank system.”

Science project brings awareness to water contamination in Nova Scotia 
A 12-year-old girl’s science project has cast a spotlight on a well-known issue along the LaHave River in Nova Scotia. Stella Bowles has been taking water samples and posting results on her Facebook page showing that levels of enterococcus bacteria exceed Canadian health guidelines. Her results have been validated by a government laboratory, with levels at one location being too high to count. Authorities have known of the existence of straight pipes discharging to the river for decades but have done nothing about it. One community is now discussing a program to remove 600 straight pipes, install septic systems and bill homeowners over 10 years to cover the estimated $13.1 million cost.

Pennsylvania improves loan system for onsite system repair and replacement
The Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority (PENNVEST) and the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency (PHFA) have expanded eligibility for the Homeowner Septic Program that provides low-interest loans to pay for the repair and replacement of onsite wastewater systems. Along with eliminating a limit on household income, the application process has been streamlined and a previous cap of $17,500 for manufactured homes has been eliminated so that $25,000 is the maximum loan for all properties.

Community pools money to buy planned land application site
A group of neighbors in the Nicola Valley of British Columbia have pitched in to buy land near their drinking water well that was planned as a site for landspreading of biosolids from wastewater treatment plants. The 19 neighbors have pitched in to buy the 130-hectare (320 acre) property for $450,000. That is about $50,000 more than the company spent to purchase the land as the location for a multiyear disposal site, which is located about a mile from the neighborhood’s shared well.

Denver resident faces charge for repeated violations involving failed cluster system
A Denver man has been charged with a felony for repeated violations involving a failed septic system in a small subdivision near Kerrville, Texas. Corey Abel works for Tobusch LLC, which owns the cluster system that serves 28 homes. The operating permit for the system was revoked and the owners were under orders to have it pumped daily. The Kerr County Environmental Health Department has filed more than 160 misdemeanor charges because of malfunctions that have deposited raw sewage on the surface since last summer. Those were all dismissed in February and replaced with a felony count of unauthorized discharge of waste. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has also opened an investigation.

Changes in Wisconsin law allows installers to do more electrical work
The Wisconsin Department of Safety & Professional Services has issued guidance to confirm what electrical work installers of onsite wastewater systems can do themselves rather than hiring a licensed electrician. The industry has been seeking such an exemption for years, according to the Wisconsin Onsite Water Recycling Association. With the change in state law, onsite professionals can now:

  • Lay all the cables in the trench
  • Attach the junction box to the manhole riser
  • Install any electrical wiring or equipment within any tank
  • Connect all conductors associated with the system within the junction box at the dose chamber
  • Connect all conductors associated with the system to the nearest disconnecting means at the house


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