Groups urge action on health risks from exposed septic tanks along Outer Banks

Groups urge action on health risks from exposed septic tanks along Outer Banks

May 29th, 2023

Two nonprofit environmental organizations are putting pressure on state and federal agencies to address the risks from the spewing septic systems of oceanfront Outer Banks houses that have collapsed or are at risk of falling into the ocean.

On behalf of the North Carolina Coastal Federation, which publishes Coastal Review, the Southern Environmental Law Center sent letters Thursday to the National Park Service at Cape Hatteras National Seashore and the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, urging them to address imminent threats to public health, welfare, and safety created by collapsing houses and abandoned septic tanks in Rodanthe village in Dare County.

In a press release, the organizations noted that the eroding shoreline and rising sea levels had left houses that once stood inland vulnerable on the wet sand beach and that, since 2020, five houses have collapsed on the Rodanthe oceanfront, “littering North Carolina’s surf and shoreline with dangerous debris including nails, drywall, chemicals, sewage, and other household materials that could contain toxic substances.”

They added that the collapses left behind septic tanks “that discharge concentrated human sewage onto the beach and into the ocean. And even before houses collapse, storms and high tides can leave their septic systems exposed, damaged, and leaking sewage onto the public beaches.”

The groups said that government agencies are responsible for eliminating the health hazards that they said threaten visitor safety and for protecting the national seashore for the use and enjoyment of future generations.

“Government officials at every level have a responsibility to prevent dangerous hazards for the safety of locals and tourists alike on North Carolina’s coast,” said Julie Youngman, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center. “The situation at Rodanthe is only getting worse with sea level rise and more intense storms from climate disruption.”

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