FACT FINDER: Human waste being dumped on Osceola farm with state approval
A group of homeowners in Osceola is fed up with what's going on next door.
A septic company called Grubb's Septic & Sewer Service, based in Elkhart, has been dumping human sewage on a nearby farm since 2005.
And the state of Indiana gave them permission.
The state's Department of Environmental Management calls it "septage." Basically, it's the substance taken out of septic tanks and portable toilets. Grubb's empties the tanks onto a farm on South Beech Road owned by James Eller, according to documents sent to WSBT by IDEM.
Records show Grubb's has dumped nearly 2.5 million gallons of septage onto the farm since 2005.
Sue and Ken Eakins will no longer drink their tap water without filtering it first. It's hard to shower in it because of the smell, they say.
"Our water smells pretty much like sulfur. Sometimes, it smells worse and really smells like a septic tank," says Sue, who lives about 1,500 feet from the dump site.
The Eakins and their neighbors have been trying to get more answers, wondering if their water is safe.
"I don't think it could possibly be safe," Sue says. "It would be the same if we just let our sewage system at the house open up and pump out in the yard."
Fortunately, the St. Joseph County Health Department is on their side.
"The health department does not feel this is a good practice except in rare situations," says Marc Nelson, the county's environmental health director.
He adds the drinking water should not be affected, unless homeowners have a crack in their drinking well. Surface water is the major concern, he says, as there is a drain leading from the dump site into the residential subdivision next door.
The county Health Department is now investigating the farm, testing the surface water to see if septage is ending up in the neighborhood, Nelson says. If it is, it could spell danger to public health.
"People are going overseas and getting the disease and bringing it back," Nelson says, "and that is something that can be spread through human waste like wildfire."
But IDEM claims dumping septage -- if the company follows its regulations -- is safe. The state issued Grubb's a permit to dump in 2005 and renewed it last year.
The company must treat the septage with lime before dumping it and must keep a pH level under 12, IDEM says.
But the county isn't sure who is monitoring Grubb's to make sure it is following the rules.
IDEM says there is a water quality inspector for the area, but the inspector told WSBT she has never been to the site.
Because the Eakins filed a complaint last week, however, an IDEM inspector is required to test the site within 30 days.
The Eakins and the county Health Department are hoping that inspection will be the end of the dumping.
"Best case scenario - that permit would be pulled, and it would be illegal to do this. Period, forever, cease and desist," Sue says.
WSBT called Grubb's to ask them about their practices, but the woman who answered hung up the phone.