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The Public Health Threat of Septic Tanks

June 22, 2023

Aerial view of a sewage treatment facility

Madeline Bruning L’24 examines state and federal responses to shore up fragile septic infrastructure and curb public health risks.

Climate change threatens an already fragile septic infrastructure, posing serious public health and environmental risks. At The Regulatory Review, Madeline Bruning L’24 explores how states are taking action to shore up septic systems.

From The Regulatory Review:

Madeline Bruning L'24 Madeline Bruning L'24Nearly a quarter of American homeowners use underground septic tanks to cleanse and dispose of their human waste. These septic systems face the risk of being submerged by more intense storms and floods as climate change worsens and could wreak havoc on habitats, water supplies, and public health.

A significant portion of the nation’s septic infrastructure is not up to the challenges presented by climate change. As of 2003, at least 20 percent of septic systems malfunctioned to some degree, and that figure has likely only increased since. As the effects of climate change exacerbate the already fragile situation, lawmakers must both strengthen regulations and provide financial assistance to homeowners to protect against septic pollution.

Septic tanks function by leaking wastewater into dry soil, which absorbs and naturally decontaminates the liquid. If the septic tank does not have enough dry soil around it, problems arise… .

The Regulatory Review is a daily online publication that provides accessible coverage of regulatory policymaking and enforcement issues across a full range of regulatory topics and from a variety of perspectives.

Launched in 2009 and operating under the guidance of Cary Coglianese, Edward B. Shils Professor of Law and Professor of Political Science, The Review is edited by students at Penn Carey Law. It is part of the overarching teaching, research, and outreach mission of the Penn Program on Regulation (PPR), which draws together more than 60 faculty from across the University of Pennsylvania.

Read more at The Regulatory Review.