Property owners learning rules around septic tanks the hard way as landfill halts access

Gerrett Murphy, who runs Affordable Septic Services in Lucasville, says the landfill is operating beyond its capacity. (Preston Mulligan/CBC – Image credit)

Ron Nugent expects his septic tank to overflow in a few days. And like many others in a similar situation, he is slowly realizing that no one is helping him.

“It's giving me sleepless nights. My stress level is high. I'm scared when I flush the toilet. I've ordered my family to only shower for two minutes,” he says.

“This shouldn't be a problem,” he adds. “This problem arose for an unknown reason that I don't understand.”

Nugent's septic tank is located under the deck of his waterfront property in Wellington, near Fall River.

Nugent's septic tank is located under his patio on his waterfront property in Wellington, near Fall River.Nugent's septic tank is located under his patio on his waterfront property in Wellington, near Fall River.

Nugent's septic tank is located under his patio on his waterfront property in Wellington, near Fall River.

Ron Nugent's septic tank is located under his patio on his waterfront property in Wellington, near Fall River. (Preston Mulligan/CBC)

The problem began when the GFL West Hants landfill notified private waste disposal companies in the Halifax area that they would no longer be able to accept waste starting June 14.

GFL did not respond to interview requests.

But private septic contractors like Gerrett Murphy, who runs Affordable Septic Services in Lucasville, say the landfill is operating beyond its capacity.

“They're having trouble processing the amount of waste they're getting,” Murphy says. “It means we're stuck. We have nowhere to pump or dispose of anything, and I can't take in any more until I have a place to take it and process it.”

Murphy says he used to empty his truck at a lagoon on the GFL property.

“Now they have this processing plant and they have a capacity problem. It should be able to handle it, but it can't. So they have to reduce their capacity for a while until they get the problem solved.”

In the meantime, he says he's getting calls from stressed home and business owners.

“We have customers calling because they need to close a house sale and the tank needs to be drained before the sale can be closed,” says Murphy. “Everyone is in a state of panic.”

Gerrett Murphy, who runs Affordable Septic Services in Lucasville Gerrett Murphy, who runs Affordable Septic Services in Lucasville

Gerrett Murphy, who runs Affordable Septic Services in Lucasville

Murphy says a customer called him “in a complete panic.” (Preston Mulligan/CBC)

While he waits for a response from GFL, homeowners like Nugent are desperately looking for a solution before their homes experience system backups.

He says he learned that he was responsible for the septic tank himself and that he would not receive any help from the municipality or the province.

The province's Ministry of Environment and Climate Change sets the rules for installing septic tanks, but when they fill up, property owners must find a private collection service to pump out the wastewater.

“Our city council advises me that it's a private matter,” says Nugent. “I think homeowners should really be aware of this. I wasn't aware of this. The only reason I know now is because I'm in this situation.”

A spokesman for the Ministry of Environment said the office was aware of the problem.

“We are supporting HRM and Halifax Water in finding solutions for waste management companies and their customers,” the department said in a statement. “For example, we have contacted wastewater treatment plants to find out who has the capacity to accept sewage sludge and passed this information on to waste management companies.”

“In the longer term, both municipalities and the private sector can create and operate more septic tanks if they see increasing market demand.”

Halifax Water is not required to accept waste from third parties. However, there is a program in place to accept waste from private wastewater treatment companies.

Officials believe that further deployments pose the risk of exceeding the company's capacity.

Halifax City Councillor Pam Lovelace posted on Facebook a list of wastewater contractors who are allowed to pump wastewater into Halifax Water's Aerotech plant near Goffs. They are:

  • A to Z Septic Services Limited.

  • Atlantic Industrial Services / Envirosystems / now known as GFL Terrapure.

  • Clean Earth Industrial Services (part of GFL from January 2024).

  • Conrad's septic tank service.

  • E & S Septic Services.

  • Grounded real estate services.

  • Honey huts.

  • Jacks Expert Flush and Toilet Rental.

  • Royal Flush Services Limited.

  • Simply septic.

  • Underdog Septic and Environmental Services.

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