Septic tank cleaner approved by EPA to create fertilizer for farmers
Who we talked to
Fred Lee has had his business for three years, but he's no newcomer to the job - he used to work for his dad's septic company. When he was injured in 1999, he was advised not to continue in the business because of his back problems, but he went back to work a few years later and is doing just fine.
"I was just bound and determined," he says. "I know it's a gross job, but I like what I'm doing. I get to work outside, and I get to help people. I meet different people every day."
How often should you get your septic tank cleaned?
"It depends on how many people live in the home. Generally, a family of four should get their tank cleaned every three to five years, but if there are one or two people, it can go seven years between cleanings. When you put in a new system, [the size] is based on the number of bedrooms in the home."
What kinds of safety precautions do you take?
"We use rubber gloves. My guys are trained, and with the way the trucks are set up, there's pretty much no danger. The hoses are sealed for safety reasons. You don't get anything splashed on you. The only thing you have is the odor, and you just deal with it. A septic tank that's running well does not stink. It needs bacteria to do its job, so [it's bad to] flush bleach or antibacterial or cleaning supplies. The more bacteria in the tank, the better off you are.
"I'm approved through the EPA to do what's called a land apply - after pumping the tank, we take the truck to a field and separate [the contents]. Anything that doesn't digest will stay in the bin, and when the bin gets full, we shovel it out, put lime on it and take it to the landfill. We put the rest in another truck and inject it into the soil to fertilize fields for farmers.
"It takes 30 to 45 minutes to pump a 1,500-gallon tank, if it's in decent shape, and it normally costs $200 to $250. We first pump out the solids on top, which won't digest. The stuff on the bottom is good to use as fertilizer."
What can a homeowner do between cleanings?
"Don't flush things like plastics, which will clog the system. I have a mixture that helps feed the bacteria. You need bleach for laundry, which will kill bacteria, and if somebody in the house is on antibiotics, they're killing bacteria each time they use the bathroom. Put that mixture in once a week [to feed the bacteria], and you won't have problems. If a customer is having an odor problem, I try to save them money by discussing it on the phone instead of making a service call.
"After I pump a system, I'll let the homeowners know what I find and tell them what to do if something's wrong. If the tank runs well, you're doing things right."