Address issue of undersized septic tanks

I am taken aback by the remarks of Mr. Lum Weng Kee in his letter, "SSD, IWK Can Meet Nation's Sewerage Needs" ( NST, Jan 16) when replying to my letter (NST, Jan 8).

I have been following with interest the issues raised by many readers on the privatization of our national sewerage services. Readers are sometimes not quite conversant with the issues involved and the authorities concerned have not been forthcoming with adequate clarification.

Many readers would agree with me that all my letters published in the newspapers were intended only to provide information and details which SSD and IWK have not been able to give, or are unwilling to reveal or discuss for reasons best known to themselves.

In my letter (NST, Jan 8), I have merely pointed out some misrepresentations in IWK's advertisement- particularly in the diagrams showing the construction of a septic tank. Even though Lum claimed that the majority of the existing septic tanks are undersized and without filter beds, it is important that what appears in print for the general information of the public must be, as far as possible, accurate and true unless proper qualifications are stated to the contrary.

I have certainly not missed the point when I raised the issues on desludging of septic tanks. As I pointed out earlier, though septic tanks are the most common domestic sewage treatment facilities in Malaysia they cannot produce satisfactory effluents, even if they have been built according to SSD's requirements. Therefore, appropriate solution(s) would be required to deal with them now even if they are to be phased out. If Lum contents that desludging is an effective way of improving our environment until they are replaced with central sewerage systems, then surely it is not only important that desludging frequency be appropriate but also made acceptable to those affected. After all, it is they who will be paying for it and therefore they deserve satisfactory clarification from the authorities concerned.

In one of my letters published in the press, I have maintained that mere desludging of a septic tank at 2-year intervals would not have a significant effect in improving its performance if the maintenance of its filter bed is ignored. If indeed an existing tank is undersized and has no filter bed it will never be able to produce a satisfactory effluent in the first place no matter how often or frequently it has been desludged!

According to the statistics provided by Lum, there would still be a significant number of septic tanks in use after the concession period. This means that the problems associated with septic tanks would not have gone away.

In view of the above, does SSD have a program to deal with those undersized tanks and those with no filter beds which would not be replaced by central sewerage systems? Is SSD just content to desludge them once every 2 years? As for those that will only be replaced towards the end of the concession period, will SSD close an eye and allow them to continue to pollute our waterways for up to a quarter of a century?

In summary, I feel that I have done my little bit of duty to society by making the public and the authorities concerned aware of the potential shortfall in this privatization project. It may be that the several matters I have raised because of my strong conviction on environmental issues have, unfortunately, touched raw nerves in SSD.


(The above article was published in NST on Feb 18, 1997) 2008