Has your onsite sewage system failed? Be sure to contact your county health department


CONTACT: Sherry Bradley
(334) 206-5375
[email protected]

Checking with your local county health department before having work done on your onsite sewage disposal system will not only protect your family’s health, it can save you money and the hassle of dealing with a failing system. That is why the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) requires an Approval for Use permit before repairing or replacing your system.

ADPH investigates complaints about onsite septic system failures that result in unapproved sewage discharge. Sewage contains harmful bacteria and pollutants that may cause illness. When properly installed and maintained, most onsite sewage disposal systems serve homeowners well in areas where municipal sewers are not available or are not practical. Warning signs of potential system problems include wet spots in the yard, slowly draining toilets or drains, gurgling sounds in drains, and sewage odors. When failures occur, approved repair or replacement is necessary to protect health and avoid polluting the environment.

“We want septic tank owners to be alert to signs of system failure, respond quickly, and be aware that they must obtain a permit before they install a new system or repair an existing one,” Leigh Willis, director of Community Environmental Services, ADPH, said. “If you aren’t properly maintaining your system, you’re hurting the environment as well as the endangering the health of yourself and your neighbors.”

To help ensure rules to repair or replace malfunctioning systems are followed, the department has instituted a protocol to verify that repairs to septic systems are completed properly. Under the protocol, public health environmentalists search records to determine whether an onsite system has been approved and if there is an Approval for Use document on file. A set of specific guidelines is outlined that includes an application, a fee if applicable, and a plot plan that must be followed.

If an Approval for Use is not on file at the local health department or the homeowner cannot provide it, the applicant must contact a soil professional (ADPH soil classifier, land surveyor or engineer) for a site evaluation and follow the requirements for a new onsite sewage system. A site professional may certify and incorporate certain components of the unapproved system so long as they meet onsite sewage treatment and disposal rules. If the failing system is an engineered system, a professional engineer must propose and design a repair.

Please contact the Environmental Office of your county health department for more information about requirements and approved options for onsite sewage system repair and replacement. Tips to avoid trouble with your system and other information about requirements are available at alabamapublichealth.gov/onsite.