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CalARVC: Enforce State Septic Regulations

March 25, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

CalARVC logoEditor’s Note: This article was written by Don Gilbert, Mike Robson, and Trent Smith on March 1 and appears in the current issue of the California Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (CalARVC) newsletter. It describes the bureaucratic inaction that has befuddled California’s RV park and campground owners for years.

It would be an understatement to say that CalARVC members have been patient with state bureaucrats over their failure to enforce state laws and regulations banning the use of “nonbiodegradable toxic chemicals” in RV toilet additives. We have been working with CalARVC on this issue since the fall of 2005.We are pleased to announce that the Legislature will finally take up the debate, as Assemblyman Bill Monning, D-Santa Cruz, has introduced AB 1824  on behalf of CalARVC. The bill defines six chemicals commonly found in RV toilet additives as nonbiodegradable toxic chemicals.

Background

These six chemicals are proven to be detrimental to certain types of septic systems. In 2005 when we first met with representatives from the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) and the Department of Toxic Substances Control, neither state department was aware that there was an ongoing  problem with septic systems failing in RV parks because of the chemicals used in RV toilet additives.

We suggested  that the SWRCB address this issue in pending regulations. However, a month or so later we were notified that current  law (passed in 1978) prohibits the use or sale of RV toilet additives if they contain “non-biodegradable toxic chemicals.”

We believed our problem had been solved. However, for almost the next two years we tried to get DTSC or SWRCB to enforce the law, but we were told there was not a problem or that the “other” department had enforcement responsibility.

Next, in April of 2007, a local SWRCB inspector in the Palm Springs area cited over two dozen RV parks and issued notices to park owners to prohibit RV owners from hooking up to the RV park septic systems. The notice stated that RV toilet additives were causing park septic systems to fail and pollute surrounding soil and groundwater.

We were able to get the CalEPA to rescind the notices because they admitted that they had not enforced the prohibited chemical additive law despite the fact that we had requested they do so almost two years earlier!

We considered introducing a bill in 2008 to clarify current law regarding prohibited chemicals. However, we were encouraged by legislators to meet with DTSC once again to see if they would enforce current law. We met with DTSC in February of 2008.

In that meeting they agreed that there was a problem with chemicals used in some products and that they would look into the issue.

In April of 2008, DTSC sent CalARVC a letter agreeing that some chemicals used in RV toilet additives are prohibited under current law. We were pleased with this determination, but we requested that DTSC notify manufacturers and retailers of their conclusion. CalARVC provided DTSC with lists of products, manufacturers and retailers.

Unfortunately, it was not until January of 2009 that DTSC completed a background sheet listing the chemicals prohibited under current law.

These background sheets were sent to manufacturers and retailers.The background sheets were also posted on the DTSC website. In the Spring of 2009, the DTSC notified CalARVC that a product manufacturer disputed DTSC’s analyses and that DTSC was, therefore, pulling their background sheets from their website and would not enforce their findings. We worked further to try to get DTSC to reverse its decision, but they believed the law was unclear with regard to the testing methods and definitions of nonbiodegradable toxic chemicals.

Legislation Needed

We subsequently worked with staff from the Senate Environmental Quality Committee to pressure DTSC to  everse their decision to pull their background sheets. However, after staff talked with the DTSC in late July 2009, it was determined a legislative solution would be necessary.

We have worked for several weeks to draft legislation that would not violate the Green Chemistry Program, a program created under law last year that sets up a panel of scientists to review specific chemicals to determine if they pose a threat to public safety or the environment. The goal of the Green Chemistry program is to head off bills that outlaw specific chemicals without reliable independent scientific evidence supporting the ban.

In previous years the Legislature reviewed dozens of bills focused on banning certain chemicals. It was difficult for legislators, a vast majority of whom do not have science backgrounds, to sort though the competing scientific evidence presented by both the proponents and opponents of the various chemical ban bills. Thus, the Green Chemistry program was created. We believe AB 1824 is narrowly drafted and achieves our goal of eliminating harmful RV toilet additive products from the market without violating the spirit of the Green Chemistry program.

AB 1824 will be heard in its first policy committee in late March.

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