GOSHEN — Bacteria, viruses and even drugs are contaminating surface water in two areas southwest of Goshen, and the Elkhart County Health Department believes the time to remedy the problem is now.
The health department has issued a letter to the Elkhart County Stormwater Management Board supporting the creation of a communitywide waste collection system for two unincorporated areas of the county. Failing septic systems at homes in Foraker and Southwest have led to illicit discharges into ditches and creeks, creating a laundry list of health concerns.
The health department points out in its letter that illnesses related to E. coli, hepatitis and salmonella have been reported in the county.
“Obviously not all of these infections are due to surface water and not all are related to these two areas, but do we want to live in a county where human waste is handled in a manner similar to the Third World,” the health department asked in the letter.
Proper disposal of human waste has proven to lessen instances of water-borne infections and diseases, the health department explained. About half of the 31 homes in the Southwest area have tested positive for contaminants with abnormal levels of E. coli being released into local waterways, according to the health department.
“The reason for these results is that these areas have the overwhelming majority of their home sites situated on very poorly drained and/or heavy, clay soils,” the letter reads. “At the time these homes were originally built, lot size standardization and septic system requirements were essentially nonexistent. These conditions have contributed to the failure of numerous septic systems for the homes in these areas.”
Karla Kreczmer, an environmental health manager at the health department, explained that county health officials do not have the authority to require a communitywide system to be built.
“We can only tell an individual owners that they have to put a septic system on their property,” she said. “The issue with the properties in this location is they're too small to put systems on to be effective at all, so our only other option as a health department is to post homes unfit as it occurs at each home.”
Stormwater board members have said that the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, or IDEM, could step in and issue a violation notice if a solution is not found. The regional sewer district board will discuss at its next meeting how to build a communitywide system.
EDITOR'S NOTE: The story has been corrected to reflect the proper authority that the health department has. It has been updated and is now correct.
Letter from the Elkhart County Health Department