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Study shows septic systems could lead to waste found in area waterways

Posted at 8:56 PM, Aug 10, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-11 03:20:44-04

NORTH FORT MYERS, Fla.  — During the last two years, Lee County entered a research agreement with Florida Atlantic University's Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute to find out if the process meant to rid your home of waste is negatively impacting your local waterways.

The group studied various areas of the county - including the Caloosahatchee from the North Fort Myers area.

We spoke with Rachel Brewton - a scientist who participated in the research.

“In all 3 of the watersheds that we looked at, we did find evidence of human waste.”

That evidence, she says, includes artificial sweeteners and acetaminophen - the drug used in pills like Tylenol.

Here's how she says those could end up in our water.

“You might have a septic system that should have dry soil under it. It’s sitting in the groundwater. And so if that’s the case, then it can’t work. And we did find that for most of the study area. You end up with a lot of untreated human waste coming into our surface water…and our groundwater - which is bad.”

Brewton says the researchers tracked nitrogen from human waste, too, and says that could be part of annual problems we see.

“That is probably helping to sustain a lot of these harmful algal blooms.”

She says their study also found evidence of stormwater runoff and animal input, too.

However, Brewton says there is some good news. 

“There are a lot of ways that it can be improved.”

She credits Lee County for efforts to fix the problems, including various studies and projects. That includes finding, identifying and reducing bacteria - as well as nutrients like phosphorous from entering the water.

Efforts the county confirmed to us in a statement:

The Lee Board of County Commissioners is committed to water-quality initiatives and policies to protect our waterways.

The county has proactively engaged in local efforts to determine potential sources of water pollution and restore impaired waters. This includes proactively engaging in several studies to understand potential water-quality issues countywide, which will be helpful in addressing potential mitigation efforts.

The county designed a large-scale microbial source tracking study to assess potential sources contributing to bacterial and nutrient pollution observed in surface waters.

The county says it continues to analyze data and is working to figure out its next steps.

But, Brewton says it will take some serious time to really correct the problem.

“It’s going to take years to fix because it took years to create," she says.