Beware dangers of septic systems

SAN BENITO — Septic tanks can be dangerous.

According to Gustavo Olivares, Cameron County Environmental Health director, homeowners should take the necessary precautions when maintaining their septic systems.

About 60 percent of Cameron County residents don’t use city sewer. They use septic systems.

A septic tank, for those who don’t know, is a tank typically underground, in which sewage is collected and allowed to decompose through bacterial activity before draining by means of a leaching field.

Olivares said the county is responsible for inspecting the waste being disposed on the property.

“You’ve got two tanks, a drain field where the waste goes. It gets disposed into the environment and gets treated by the soil through evaporation and absorption,” he said. “The grass loves those conditions.”

A majority of the cities still have septic systems. “Not everybody has public sewer,” Olivares said.

He said the public should take into consideration, “if you have one, be responsible.”

Faulty and abandoned septic systems can prove dangerous for some, especially children.

“With time, septic systems can corrode because the majority of them are made of concrete,” he said. “If you open one and you are standing on top of it, it can explode. You can fall in and drown immediately.”

A couple years ago, Olivares said, the dangers became real after a child had fallen into an abandoned septic system and drowned.

“He was playing outside with some friends. There was an abandoned house with an abandoned septic system. At one point someone had put plywood on top of the opening and grass had grown over it. The child fell in and drowned,” Olivares said.

“It happens routinely.”

In Hidalgo County, a 1-year-old boy died in May after he fell into a septic tank and drowned.

The Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office said at the time that deputies were called to the family’s rural home about 13 miles northwest of McAllen.

Department spokesman J.P. Rodriguez said the boy’s mother had stepped away from the child and gone into the family trailer for about three minutes to tend to another child.

She returned to find the boy missing and suspected he had fallen through a one-foot opening into the septic tank, which was undergoing servicing.

When Alton firefighters opened up the tank they found the child submerged in about 4 feet of liquid.

Olivares urges the public to take precautions to avoid situations like that.

“If at one point or another at the property you live on has no new development, there was probably a septic tank in the backyard,” Olivares said.

“I would do the research and have a professional come and probe your property. It is a violation to have an abandoned septic system on your property.”