Septic tank, cesspool and drywell service, repair, maintenance and even construction need attention to safety, especially attention to safe septic tank covers.
This article lists septic tank accidents, cave-ins, and fatalities, including accidents, drownings, overcome by methane gas and similar hazards posed by unsafe septic tanks that have not been properly abandoned, covered, closed, or at tanks that were entered or serviced by people without proper training and equipment.
We provide this gruesome data in hope that an increased awareness of the safety hazards around improperly maintained, covered, or serviced septic tanks, cesspools, or drywells can be the cause of very serious accidentsl.
Septic Tank Accident Prevention: ReviewList of Septic Tank, Drywell, Cesspool Accidents
That septic tank or cesspool accidents and an occasional loss are not a new hazard should come as no surprise, as noted in our copy of a 1962 septic tank report (left) in Melbourne's The Age, 27 June, 1962. The boy who fell into the septic tank had been jumping on top of the concrete tank when the cover gave way beneath him.
[Click to enlarge any image]
It would appear that the top septic tank hazards include these ultimate mistakes:
Sepic tanks left open and unattended for any reason for any length of time whatsoever
Improperly abandoned septic tanks providing a collapse or fall-in hazard
Improper septic tank service procedures - entering a septic tank without proper equipment and training
Below is a catalog of septic tank or cesspool accidents and loss of lives and a few rescues.
History of Septic Cesspool Drywell Accident Reports 1907 - Present
CONTACT US to add septic or soakaway system or similar accidents to this table. Data from all countries is requested.
Seven people were killed by toxic fumes after entering a septic tank in poland; four of the victims were all members of the same family. Polish police (Syylwia Wroniec) indicated that after a man entered a septic tank to cleran it and was overcome by fumes, seven more people entered the tank to try to rescue him. All but one entrant also died.
Other news reports (skynews.com.au) reported that this was an industrial-sized septic tank on a pig farm and that the victims were trying to empty the tank after a woman reportedly drove a tractor over the septic tank cover leading it to collapse. Family members were trying to rescue the woman.
Noel Glen Norton, 56, of Frankfort KY died from positional asphyxiation after entering an 18-inch septic tank riser. Mr. Norton was found wedged in "a pipe leading to a septic tank" at home in southeastern metropolitan Louisville Kentucky when the homeowner arrived home.
- Louisville KY USA, September 2014
We suspect that Mr. Norton made at least two fatal errors: working alone at a septic tank and leaning over the septic tank riser, not considering that he might become overcome by fumes. - Ed.
Gallia Georgia, U.S.
Five year old girl fell into septic tank and died in the Addison Township, Gallia County, Georgia, USA. The child had been missing for just 10 minutes before she was found.
- 16 June 2014.
We infer that child-proof safe septic tank cover(s) were not installed - Ed.
A seven year old boy, Noah Laehn was rescued from a septic tank in Blue Earth Minnesota. Noah fell into the septic tank when he jumped onto the septic tank lid which popped off of the septic tank. The boy fell into the septic tank that had been pumped out the day before. - Reported by myfoxtwincities.com, 26 March 2014
24 March, 2014
No child-proof safe septic tank lid or access cover or riser cover was installed.
Fruitland Park, Florida U.S.
The Orlando Sentinel (orlandosentinel.com) reported on 6 Feb 2014 that an autopsy had concluded that a two-year old girl's death after falling into an open septic tank was caused by drowning. The accident occurred at 704 Jewell Street in Fruitland Park FL as the residents were moving out of the home.
The septic tank opening was described by the news report as 1 ft x 2 ft. and the report added that a neighbor, Mark Whales, said that the concrete septic tank cover had been knocked off of the septic tank when the tank was driven over by a truck during the preceding summer.
- 5 February 2014.
We infer that safe septic tank cover(s) were not installed - Ed.
Email to InspectApedia: my brother-in-law just died yesterday from jumping into a septic tank to clean at his workplace on Fafa Island in Tonga. He was obviously unaware of the present dangers and unfortunately OH&S laws don't exist in the country. He was only 27. Please be careful! - Lavinia 2/19/2013
AP, "Woman Told Ohio Cops Septic Tank Death Accidental", reports of a woman's body disposed of in a septic tank. 3/1/2013
Kalish, Nagar, India
34-year-old man ... in a septic tank in Pallikaranai on Tuesday. Police said Jayapal died after inhaling toxic fumes from the septic tank in an apartment complex on Pilayar Koil Street
A 34-year-old man ... in a septic tank in Pallikaranai on Tuesday. Police said Jayapal ... after inhaling toxic fumes from the septic tank in an apartment complex on Pilayar Koil Street in Kailash Nagar.
The residents' association hired Jayapal and Murugesan to clean the septic tank, a police officer said. "Jayapal slipped and fell into the septic tank while Murugesan went to a shop nearby to buy something," he said. "Murugesan returned and tried to rescue Jayapal but he also fainted after inhaling toxic fumes."; 4/23/2013
The death is the latest in a series of such accidents despite a Madras high court ban on manual cleaning of sewers and septic tanks.
Wallan, Melbourne, Australia
Goya Dmytryshchak, "... headfirst fall into Septic Tank", 26 May 2012, The Victoria Age, http://www.theage.com.au, retrieved 4/3/13
the woman had been doing maintenance work
Lakewood NJ, U.S.
AP, "Autopsy: N.J. girl's [J.C.] septic tank death an accident", 3/14/2012 - accidental drowning on 3/12/12 caused the death of a toddler whose body was found inside a septic tank behind her home. This comment in the article "Search teams found a 3-foot-wide hole in the yard that led to a septic tank, and the Public Works Department was called to pump water from the tank." suggests a collapse or unsafe septic tank cover.
Nur Ammar Adlyn Mohd Husni fell into septic tank
believed to have fallen into the septic tank which was not closed properly
New Straits Times
Quezon City, Phillipines
4 workers ... in mall septic tank - A 50-year-old plumber, his two sons, and a coworker ... in a 10-foot-deep septic tank at a major shopping mall in Cubao, Quezon City, before dawn Thursday.
Rodel Suarez was the first to get trapped in the tank and the three others ... when they tried to rescue him. Inquirer News
Uttar Pradesh, India
August: Rajat Rai, "Loss of Rs100 note causes four deaths in Uttar Pradesh village",
"A terrified boy's attempt to fish out a Rs100 note from a septic tank triggered a bizarre chain of deaths in a UP village on Thursday.
Ten-year-old Sandeep, his father and two other villagers died after diving into the pit filled with poisonous gases one after the other."
Mail Online India, http://www.dailymail .co.uk/ retrieved 4/3/2013.
Starke, FL, U.S.
A Starke Florida toddler fell into a septic tank in the woods near his home. In what may be a second report of the same incident, Matt Augustine (WOKTV.com) reported "Toddler [Aiden Howard] falls to death in septic tank", noting "...someone was too sorry, too lazy, or negligent to cover up a hole in a septic tank," said Bradford County Sheriff Gordon Smith." 10/18/2012
"Investigators believe the little boy fell through a hole in the broken cement top of the tank." - actionnewsjax.com.
Vennoor, Mala, India
A toddler ... fell into a septic tank near his house at Mala near here on Monday.
The two-year-old victim, Aljo, son of Sijo Nettiyadan was playing outside his house when he went missing at noon.
Though his parents searched for him in the neighbouring areas, they could not locate him.
Later, the body was recovered from the septic tank behind the house when the neighbours and relatives opened the tank.
The boy slipped into the tank through a hole just behind the home.
Farmingdale, Long Island, NY U.S.
Lucas Alpert, "Two Long Island teens killed after falling into a cesspool after becoming overcome by fumes", Long Island York Daily News, 2 June 2011, a tragedy in which Eduardo Vanegas-Fuentes, 16, of Holtsville and Edgar Calderon-Castro, 19, of Farmingville died.
Daily News, 4 New York Plaza, New York, NY 10004
Tel: (212) 210-2100
Farmingdale, Long Island, NY U.S.
The same Daily News article as above reported two other local septic tank demises
Daily News, 4 New York Plaza, New York, NY 10004
Tel: (212) 210-2100
"Septic Tank Death, Fumes Kill Man [Thomas Gil] Working Inside Septic Tank", 10/17/2011 Gil was on a ladder passed out inside an underground manhole.
, "Two men found dead in septic tank
Police make discovery after workers reported missing; OSHA investigating
" Seacoast Online,
9/28/2011 Winfield Studley, 58, of Windsor, and Richard Kemp, 70, were found in an underground sewage tank at the Lodge at Turbat's Creek in Kennebunkport, ME.
Reported in Wyoming, USA
Two men died while attempting to repair pumps in a septic tank.
Apparently the homeowner had hired an independent septic tank servicing company to help him clean and repair the system. The two men entered the tank, un-witnessed, using a flexible "home escape" ladder. Both men died in the septic tank.
Co-workers reported having previously seen the company owner enter a septic tank the day before the fatal accident.
Tests performed during the subsequent investigation found 1000 ppm of hydrogen sulfide gas in the septic tank. Although news reports [on file] stated that one of the men was "experienced" at septic tank work the deaths make evident that that experience was inadequate to assure following safe procedures.
3 August 2011
The workmen did not follow confined space entry procedures, entered the tank without an outside monitoring person, did not test the tank for hazardous gases, did not have adequate safety and breathing equipment, and had no plan for an adequate and timely rescue.
Harare — A five-year-old boy... on Monday last week after he slipped into a septic tank at his parents' Waterfalls home.
Craig Mudzviti's body was found a few hours later by his father, Mr Precious Mudzviti, floating in the nearly full septic tank at House Number 292 Cheviot Road, Waterfalls.
The Herald the All Africa Archive
Smithdown ??, U.S.
a 17-year-old ... after falling into a cesspool at a Smithtown Dunkin' Donuts
Benmore, Southland, New Zealand
A horse was rescued after falling through a septic tank cover, 4 April 2009
New Zealand Herald, NZPA
Hookstown PA, U.S.
AP, "Coroner: Pa. boy, 4, [Wyatt Smitsky] found in septic tank drowned", 6 October 2009. The article reports that the boy could have moved the 14-pound lid himself.
"Septic Tank Breaks David Death's Neck", You Tube, report of broken neck due to fall into septic tank uploaded 3/30/08
Chippewa WI, U.S.
"Septic Tank Fall-in , Lake Hallee [Wisconsin, Chippewa County] ... after falling into a septic tank and drowning.", 18 March 2008
Mastic Beach Long Island, U.S.
A badly decomposed body was found in a cesspool in Mastic Beach Long Island - apparently that of Nicolo Caietta, the property owner who had been missing for more than a year and a half. Forest Road West, Mastic Long Island, reported missing May 2006. Police had checked the cesspool after the man was reported missing in 2006 but did not observe the body until 2008 when cesspool levels had subsided.
The news report by Long Island Newsday (newsday.com) quoted Homicide Detective Lt. Jack Fitzpatrick as saying "This clearly wasn't an accident" .
Foul play suspected, possibly not a septic or cesspool accident - Ed.
Missoula MT, U.S.
"Missing Montana Boy [ Loic J.M. Rogers], 3, Found ... in Septic Tank", Missoula Montana,
AP, [How the boy got into the septic tank and how its lid was then reported closed was unclear in this article].
Deer Park, Long Island, NY,U.S.
a Long Island landscaper ... after driving a lawn mower into a cesspool in Deer Park
"Man, Son, Neighbor Swallowed by Cesspool", 25 April 2006 - successfully rescued
Wil Cruz,Long Island Newsday
Taunto MA, U.S.
Jaecen Cambronero, aged three, died after falling into the family septic tank at Richmond Street, Taunton MA, on 4 May 2006. The family had moved into the home just four days before.
A firefighter who stepped on the septic tank lid observed that stepping on the lid caused it to flip open. A personal injury lawfirm, Abraham, Watkins, et als. posted a follow-up on 29 May 2012 (abrahamwatkns.com) indicating that legal proceedings established gross negligence on the part of Carlos A.
Costa, DBA Classic Home Inspection & Services, an inspector who had found the system "in proper condition". The court awarded the family substantial damages.
"The defendant performed the inspection in a grossly negligent manner and breached a warranty that the premises, including the septic system, were in proper condition," Judge Thomas McGuire Jr. wrote in the judgment, which was given Monday in New Bedford Superior Court. "The cover of the septic system was defective." - source: abrahamwatkins.com, retrieved 7 Feb 2015.
No child resistant or secure septic tank cover.
Inadequate septic system inspection by a home inspector.
Tim Miller, "Two Year Old Boy [Taydem Isaac Lindsey] ... in Jefferson Co. Septic Tank", Channel 6 News, Jefferson County TN, 21 April 2004, Jefferson County detective Byd McCoig reported that the concrete lid over the tank had been left off so that septic system repair work could be done
Jason Foster, "Man Falls Into 6-Foot Septic Tank, ... 28 July 2004
"Two Young Boys ... in Neighbor's Septic Tank", CNN.com, 15 March 2003, Warner Robins GA, bodies found submerged in a partially-uncovered septic tank that had been "...in disrepair for about two weeks after a towing company pulling a car out of the yard broke the top of the tank". The tank had been pumped but had accumulated rainwater (and would possibly have retained a septic methane gas hazard).
The author [DJF] consulted in a loss of the father of a young family: the adultfell into a cesspool. A Long Island cesspool servicing company, buying up smaller operators, appeared to have sent an un-trained worker to a job where he jetted a site-built cesspool and pumped it to an unsafe level. The next morning the owner walked across the now-buried but unsfae cesspool cover. The cover collapsed beneath him and he fell in, was buried alive, and was not discovered until the end of the day.
A father, Gaspare Campo - age 57, and two sons, Thomas Campo - 16, and Anthony Campo - 27, were overcome by fumes and apparently died from falling-into the septic tank and drowning while working on a septic tank in Dix Hills, Long Island (NY USA). The Times reported that Mr. Campo was working on a tank used to collect sewage overflow from a cesspool at his home on Caledonia Road in Long Island NY.
24 July 2015 - The New York Times
Septic Tank Death Accidental", The Age, 27 June 1962,
4 persons overcome by H2S on entering a septic tank , Feb '54
Overcome by H2S Hydrogen Sulfide Gas during sewer pipe maintenance
Wanganui Chronicle, Volume L, Issue 1252, 16 March 1907, P5
A child and a minor girl ... after they fell into a septic tank at Rahul Nagar in Bairagarh Township.
Police said a five-year-old boy Bhupendra fell in the septic tank in a ground. On spotting the incident, a girl Pappi, 17, also jumped into the tank to save the boy. The girl took the boy out of the tank, but could not be saved. Later, Pappi, who was admitted to a hospital, also succumbed. The incident has once again exposed the negligence of authorities.
The Times of India published online 2012
"Father ... in septic tank saving son".
Thomas S. Vander Woude prished saving his son Joseph who had Downs syndrome."Joseph apparently fell through a piece of metal that covered a 2-by-2-foot opening in the septic tank, according to Prince William County police and family members. "
In a testimony to the importance of secure safe SEPTIC TANK COVERS is this remark from the article:
Continue reading at SEPTIC & CESSPOOL SAFETY to find the depth to the cover of an existing septic tank or select a topic from the More Reading links shown below.
Question: what to do about a hidden septic tank & the risks at a home for sale
We recently moved from a rental home. The owner placed the home for sale. The issue resides in the fact the home is now on the city sewer system and a 1000 gal. concrete septic tank is still on the property. I looked into the situation because we discussed purchasing the home.
The tank is full of waste, but since we did not buy, the owner came in and cut the pipe off to the tank and capped it. He than buried the pipe to the tank to hide its existence. We are concerned about whomever may buy the home.
We live in the state of Missouri and a tributary to [deleted] a lake is less than a 1/4 mile from the home. We feel sorry for any one who purchases the home without knowing this tank is on the property. We are also concerned about the environment since the tank is full of waste.
How should we approach this situation to get it resolved. I was told that Missouri has now instated some serious laws concerning septic tanks due to contamination issues on our lakes. Any advice would be appreciated. The home is valued under $100,000.00 and this could cause new owners some serious financial problems if not resolved.
Any help would be appreciated. - M & T M 6/6/2013
Reply: give owner written notice; if necessary inform authorities
I agree with you that beyond the risk of a surprise expense for the new homeowners, what the owner has done by improperly "abandoning" a septic is dangerous, risking in the most extreme event, death caused by someone falling into an unsuspected and improperly abandoned septic tank; the proper means of abandonment would be to pump all of the sewage out of the tank and then fill it in.
I emphasize that the hazard of falling into a septic tank is more serious than the risk of environmental contamination from sewage that might eventually leak out of the tank. The actual risk of someone falling into the tank varies by the tank condition and in particular, its construction and the security and safety of its cover. For example a steel septic tank is very likely to rust through and collapse; a home-made or site-built tank is often equally unsafe, while a solid concrete tank and heavy duty tank cover properly closed is less dangerous but not risk-free.
For people who are uninformed about the reality of septic tank death hazards I have written an article that tabulates some of the injuries and deaths involved:
We all understand that the owner will not appreciate your meddling in his/her affairs, but in my OPINION it would be unconscionable to ignore the situation. I have often found that simply writing a clear notice to the owner pointing out the hazard is often sufficient; even a thoughtless and mean person is not usually foolish enough to ignore a valid warning once it is in written form. If the owner ignores you there is the further option of copying your local building department, health department and state environmental departments on the note.
You are welcome to print out and include these articles that may be useful:
and you are welcome to include my opinion & this correspondence as well.
Keep me posted on what happens - what we learn may assist other readers; - DJF
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 Amoore, J.E. and Hautala, E., 1983. Odor as an aid to chemical safety: odor thresholds compared with threshold limit values and volatilities for 214 industrial chemicals in air and water dilution. Journal of Applied Toxicology 3, 272-290.
 Bates, M.N., Garrett, N. and Shoemack, P., 2002. Investigation of health effects of hydrogen sulfide from a geothermal source. Archives of Environmental Health, 57(5): 405-411.
 Gangolli, S. (Ed.), 1999. The Dictionary of Substances and their Effects, 2nd edn. The Royal Society of Chemistry. Cambridge.
 Sax, N.I. and Lewis, R.J., Sr., 1989. Dangerous Properties of Industrial Materials, 7th edn. Van Nostrand Reinhold. New York.
 Snyder, J.W., Safir, E.F., Summerville, G.P. and Middleberg, R.A., 1995. Occupational fatality and persistent neurological sequelae after mass exposure to hydrogen sulfide. American Journal of Emergency Medicine, 13(2): 199-203.
E. Onyekwelu: Critical Study Of Near Drowning Cases At A Pediatric Emergency Department In West Africa. The Internet Journal of Health. 2009 Volume 8 Number 2. DOI: 10.5580/125b
 Pennsylvania State Fact Sheets relating to domestic wastewater treatment systems include
Pennsylvania State Wastewater Treatment Fact Sheet SW-161, Septic System Failure: Diagnosis and Treatment
Pennsylvania State Wastewater Treatment Fact Sheet SW-162, The Soil Media and the Percolation Test
Pennsylvania State Wastewater Treatment Fact Sheet SW-l64, Mound Systems for Wastewater Treatment
Pennsylvania State Wastewater Treatment Fact Sheet SW-165, Septic Tank-Soil Absorption Systems
Document Sources used for this web page include but are not limited to: Agricultural Fact Sheet #SW-161 "Septic Tank Pumping," by Paul D. Robillard and
Kelli S. Martin. Penn State College of Agriculture - Cooperative Extension, edited and annotated by
Dan Friedman (Thanks: to Bob Mackey for proofreading the original source material.)
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