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Water Quality Scams

Posted: May 14, 2012

A recent article brought to mind how easy it is to be confused about water quality issues as well as potentially lose a lot of money doing things we don’t need to be doing.

The article, by Karen Datko, was about con artists in South Florida who convinced elderly people they needed special toilet paper and other products to meet new government rules for septic tanks. The US Attorney’s Office of South Florida stated that "Through this scheme, some elderly customers were defrauded into purchasing more than 70 years worth of toilet paper."

The Miami Herald reported that “Prosecutors said the company scammed about $1 million from more than a dozen victims from across the country."  As Ms. Datko reported, according to authorities, here's how the scam worked. First, elderly folks with septic tanks got calls saying the company was the only one recognized by the Environmental Protection Agency and other federal agencies to sell an anti-sludge treatment for the tanks. The cost? $199! According to Reuters, those who placed an order were put on an "idiot" list and subsequently told they'd need to buy a special type of toilet paper, plus detergents and soaps, to meet all of these supposedly new EPA regulations. Please keep in mind, the EPA may regulate a lot of things but the type of toilet paper that reaches your septic tank is not one of them.

We all know that there are disreputable people out there that are trying to make a buck. However, there are also some very reputable businesses out there. Unfortunately, it is sometimes tough for us to tell the difference. Particularly if they really sound like they know what they are talking about.

Always seek help from an unbiased source, such as Penn State Extension, especially when the concern you have may lead to spending money. Penn State Extension has a wealth of resources about water testing, on-lot septic system management, water treatment and other water quality issues.

Here is another example of someone who was unwittingly bamboozled by a shady company. Several years ago I was called by someone wanting to know why their water was still brown. And if it was brown, was it safe to drink and cook with. It turns out that they had more than $10,000 worth of water treatment equipment installed in their house for a problem that should have only cost no more than $2000 to fix. The water treatment equipment, in this case, was actually causing the water to be worse than it was straight out of the well. If you have a private water source and think you may have a problem, it is always wise to have your water tested by a DEP accredited lab that is not associated with the company that is trying to sell you water treatment equipment. And, while the on-the-spot testing that water treatment companies do at your kitchen faucet may be helpful in determining where you MAY have a problem, it is wise not to rely exclusively on those at-home water tests.

Now, getting back to toilet paper…when you think you may have a problem with your septic system that may require major repair or replacement of some or all of your system, contact your local sewage enforcement officer. He or she will be able to help you figure out if you need permits, and if you could solve your problem in a less expensive way.

And, as always, use common sense. If it seems to be too good to be true, it usually is.