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State of Florida regulations refer to a septic system as an Onsite Sewage Treatment and Disposal System or OSTDS. The septic tank is only one component of a properly designed OSTDS. By definition, an OSTDS can contain any one or more of the following components: septic tank; subsurface drainfield; aerobic treatment unit (ATU); graywater tank; laundry wastewater tank; grease interceptor; pump tank; waterless, incinerating or organic waste-composing toilet; and sanitary pit privy. An OSTDS is not a “package plant.” The system must provide for subsurface effluent disposal and must not have any open tanks or open treatment units. In 1997, the US Environmental Protection Agency publicly recognized “onsite systems…as potentially viable, low-cost, long-term, decentralized approaches to wastewater treatment if they are planned, designed, installed, operated, and maintained properly.”
In Florida, the Bureau of Onsite Sewage Programs in the Florida Department of Health (FDOH) and the environmental health section of the County Health Departments regulate the use of OSTDSs. However, FDOH does not permit the use of an OSTDS where the estimated domestic sewage flow (as calculated in Table 1 of 64E-6.008, FAC) from the establishment is over 10,000 gpd or the commercial sewage flow is over 5,000 gpd; or where there is a likelihood that the system will receive toxic, hazardous or industrial wastes; or where a sewer system is available; or if any system or flow from the establishment is currently regulated by FDEP, unless a variance from these prohibitions has been granted by FDOH.
FDEP and FDOH Coordination
In 1983, the Department of Environmental Protection entered into an Interagency Agreement with the Department of Health to coordinate the regulation of onsite sewage systems, septage and residuals, and marina pumpout facilities. This agreement sets up procedures for addressing interagency issues including jurisdiction. For purposes of the Agreement, “Domestic Wastewater” includes waste from homes, portable toilets, holding tanks, boats and marinas and even wastewater from certain commercial and industrial establishments. “Commercial Wastewater” is similar to domestic, only stronger, such as wastewater from food service operations (e.g., restaurants, school cafeterias, etc.), commercial laundries with no more than four washing machines, animal holding facilities (e.g., commercial kennels, veterinary hospitals, and animal grooming facilities), and beauty salons. Please note that “Commercial Wastewater” is not necessarily synonymous with wastewater from commercial businesses. All other wastewater, including those that are toxic and/or hazardous, is considered “Industrial Wastewater,” including wastewater from dairies, food processing plants, slaughterhouses, funeral homes, car washes, and commercial laundries with more than four washing machines.
Applicants for an OSTDS permit may request waiver of jurisdiction from FDEP to FDOH in cases where the estimated sewage flow is above the FDOH jurisdictional flow specified above or where there is a likelihood for toxic, hazardous or industrial wastewater. First an applicant must obtain a letter from FDEP stating whether or not there is an objection to transferring jurisdiction to FDOH for the particular establishment. Then, the applicant must apply for an OSTDS permit from the Local County Health Department (CHD) and file for a variance through the local CHD. A Variance Review and Advisory Committee normally meets on the first non-holiday Thursday of every month in various locations around the state and makes a recommendation to FDOH’s State Health Officer, who in turn makes the final decision on whether FDOH will accept jurisdiction of the establishment’s wastewater for purposes of permitting an OSTDS.
Last updated: September 21, 2011
2600 Blair Stone Road M.S. 3500
Tallahassee, Florida 32399
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