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BOH ponders new rules for alternative septic systems

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PEPPERELL — Unable to bring owners and dealers of Fixed Activated Sludge Treatment (FAST®) residential wastewater treatment systems together, the Board of Health rescheduled the session in an attempt to iron out problems that have cropped up.

Members instead spent more than an hour discussing alternative septic system use with former Planning Board member and civil engineer Jack Visniewski as the board considers setting an official policy.

FAST® systems are pre-engineered modular wastewater treatment systems designed to treat residential and commercial wastewater. Essentially small, self-contained treatment plants, they break down waste using microorganisms cultivated in an aeration media chamber, turning wastewater into a clear, odorless, high-quality effluent.

The systems allow for significantly smaller and shallower leaching fields than conventional septic systems, making the FAST® system and others like it an excellent solution for house lots with poor soil, ledge or adjacent wetlands. Visniewski said similar products are in regular use throughout New Hampshire.

Because the systems operate much like municipal wastewater systems, which must be staffed by licensed treatment operators, homeowners should have a maintenance contract with the seller to provide needed support.

One of the three property owners complained last month about inadequate inspections done by the selling company. Another has experienced odors emanating from access points in the sewer line as the system’s internal blower pushed sewage gas into the atmosphere. A third has experienced severe settling around the septic tank and grading that brings runoff toward the foundation of the home.

“The question is, do we fire back at the designer regarding extending the longevity of the (maintenance) contract to provide a great comfort zone?” Wirtanen asked. “The technology is wonderful but monitoring is a problem. I would not recommend denying a person (a permit to install a system) but instead toss it back at the engineer.”

Wirtanen explained that after the first year of use, an owner needs to be a Class II wastewater treatment professional or be an employee of the seller to fully understand the system.

“Perhaps we (the BOH) should look at getting that credential and do the inspections (on FAST® systems) for the town,” Wirtanen suggested.

Visniewski, who has designed two such wastewater systems and is familiar with the unit on Cheyenne Road, said the odor problem seems to have been caused by a pressure system malfunction that can be “tweaked.”

He said when FAST® systems first start operation, they generally give off an odor when the air is pushed out of the lines by the internal pump. Once the system is stabilized the odors go away, he said.

Wirtanen said someone in the home had added fabric softener to the wastewater stream and it was killing the beneficial bacteria used to break down the waste. He said the manufacturing company wanted the tank pumped out and recommended using a special additive.

“We’re trying to bring everyone to a happy conclusion and we can go on to other things,” Wirtanen said. “I’m getting queasy about (alternative) treatment/distribution systems. Maintenance contracts are generally for two years but after that (they’re dropped) because it’s too expensive.

“The question is should we (the town) have requirements (for contracts), for example five-year contracts held by the town?” Wirtanen said.

Board member Holly Bradman felt the board should take money up front because the owners are not acquiring their own contracts.

“For us it’s more meeting the requirements for the type of system,” Wirtanen said. “People should be happy with a well functioning system but people being people, the economy being the economy and money being money … the town is not set up for escrow accounts.”

Visniewski said another question is who should do the inspections and how follow-ups will be done.

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