New DEP septic policy derided; ‘No nitrate problem’ in Wayne, Pike
State officials are taking public comment on a new policy that would amend the rules for the installation of new septic systems. Under the proposed rules, in areas with exceptional value and high quality waters, such as Wayne and Pike counties, septic systems could not be placed closer than 150 feet from a body of water or 30 feet from a stream.
Further, there would be a requirement for underground septic systems to be surrounded by a barrier to prevent the effluent from traveling underground. This would be done to prevent nitrates from getting into the water. Local officials in the region have complained loudly that such a policy, which is being considered by the PA Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), is not needed, and it will crush development in the region.
At the Pike County Commissioners meeting on March 20, commissioner Rich Caridi said from a scientific perspective “there is not a nitrate problem; we don’t have one.”
He said the measure of nitrates in the water analysis from Lake Wallenpaupack is one milligram per liter, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, through what he called “dubious tests,” had determined that a level of 10 milligrams per liter “could have”—and he underscored the words “could have”—a link to blue-baby syndrome or cyanosis, which involves heart defects in newborn babies.
Caridi said that because of the price of the technology, “a new home could face as much as $25,000 in new costs, if they can find someone who knows the new technology.”
Commissioner Matt Osterberg said the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania has launched an initiative to halt this policy from being adopted.
He said, “We’re pushing to make sure that this does not occur because it’s pretty devastating to our economic development, never mind home building.”
He added that Senator Lisa Baker, representatives Mike Peifer, Rosemary Brown and Sandra Major are all on board with the notion that the policy regarding nitrates is not needed.
A document on the DEP website says, “In infants, drinking water having greater than 10 milligrams per liter nitrate nitrogen, the nitrate-reducing bacteria in the intestine can convert nitrates to nitrites. These nitrites change the hemoglobin in the infant’s blood stream to methemoglobin. Hemoglobin carries oxygen to the cells of the infant’s body. Methemoglobin cannot carry oxygen. If enough hemoglobin is converted to methemoglobin, cyanosis and oxygen deprivation occurs. Death has been attributed to nitrate concentration in water of less than 40 milligrams per liter.”
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