Recently, attention has been directed to two older suburban neighborhoods with serious pollution problems resulting from failing septic systems. The events suggest a need for the Erie County Health Department to undertake more systematic inspections of the septic facilities that homeowners install when there are no sewers to carry away human waste.
Yes, more intensive inspections may lead to greater county expenses. Yes, homeowners might find them intrusive and, in cases of a failed system, expensive to satisfy. But it's a public health issue of importance to the greater community.
In the Clarence Hollow neighborhood, property owners have rightly voted 3 to 1 to install sewers, reversing a negative vote more than 10 years ago. Failing septic systems have resulted in great pollution, including high levels of dissolved oxygen, ammonia and fecal bacteria in Ransom Creek, a condition of many years in duration. And there are smells.
Prior to the vote, health and environmental officials from the county and the state told property owners they would begin punitive steps against properties with faulty or inadequate systems if the sewers were defeated again. Why have they waited so long?
In the Highland Acres neighborhood of the Town of Hamburg, residents will be voting Sept. 22 on creation of a sewer district. The spotlight falls on Highland Acres because septic-system leakage into Rush Creek is considered a prime source of the pollution that all too often results in closing Woodlawn Beach to swimming. As in Clarence Hollow, the state would pay most of the costs of the new sewers.
The Health Department inspects septic systems when a property changes owners. It inspects where there are serious complaints. But there is no systematic program for periodic inspections to catch failing systems where there has been no ownership change or big complaint.
Conditions at Clarence Hollow and Highland Acres suggest there should be.