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Information about Septic System Inspection and Testing as Regulated in Massachusetts.
When is a Title 5 septic system inspection required? How do I obtain a Title 5 Septic Inspection?Where can I see the forms, regulations, etc. for Title 5 Septic Inspections?
This document provides information about septic inspection and testing as regulated by law in Massachusetts. We include
links to the actual provisions of the law and contact information for state authorities, as well as history and news
release information for this topic.
This information is provided by the author, as a public service; it has not been reviewed nor sanctioned by MA state authorities.
We also provide a MASTER INDEX to this topic, or you can try the page top or bottom SEARCH BOX as a quick way to find information you need.
State Regulations in Massachusetts Regulate Septic System Title 5 Inspection & Testing
New Massachusetts Septic Testing Regulations took effect 1 April, 1995, on
and after which the Mass. Department of Environmental Protection, (DEP) requires
that all residential property sales include septic evaluations performed by a
state certified system inspector. Contact the Massachusetts State DEP for a current list of
inspectors who have been certified.
The most-recent update to the Massachusetts Title 5 Septic Law took effect in 2016.
Massachusetts Title 5 Septic Law News Updates
08/06/2017 Updated links to Massachusetts Title 5 septic law, protocols, faqs, information. The most recent version of Title 5 (310 CMR 15.000) took effect on September 9, 2016. Here is a copy of THE CURRENT TITLE 5 SEPTIC LAW
01/15/2010 Updated links to Massachusetts Title 5 Septic Testing Law, Protocols, Procedures to include documents from the Massachusetts state government Title 5 site given as additional links at REFERENCES
9/16/96 Updated link to Mass. Info on the Web - see "More Information" below.
5/96 We're told that the state has made an exception for properties scheduled to
be served by community sewer lines within five years.
9/20/95 Massachusetts News Reports today indicate that one out of four septic
systems tested under the new law fail to meet acceptable standards of
performance. Average repair costs range from $5400. to $7500. Source: NPR News.
8/2/95 Massachusetts News Reports today indicate that due to extreme costs to
consumers to comply with the recent Title 5 Rules, the state is making changes
to offer consumers some relief: homeowners whose old non-complying septics are
shown to not be contaminating local groundwater will not be required to replace
the system; some tax relief will be offered to homeowners who are required to
make such replacements. Source: NPR News.
Additional Testing Required
Lenders are expected to require that all septic testing in MA conform to the
new law. The new inspections exceed traditional visual inspections which are
performed in many states. Because additional inspection is required, including
excavation and pumping, septic inspection fees will probably reflect this new
level of effort.
The inspector will have to locate wells and ground water sources on and near
the property. The septic tank and distribution box will be opened and examined.
Wells located within certain distances of the septic will have to be tested for
bacteria and nitrates. Systems located within 50' of a well will fail to meet
the requirements of the new law.
Standard Report Form
A new standard report form has been designed by the state. Contact the DEP or their website to
obtain a current copy or use the links to the DEP forms at the bottom of this web page.
When are Septic System Inspections Required:
These inspections are required to be performed within nine months prior to the
sale of a property; when freezing weather or other conditions restrict
inspection, a six-months grace period may be allowed.
Quoting from the Mass Title5 Law:
When are on-site [septic] system inspections required?
When properties are sold, divided or combined.
When there is a change in use or an expansion of a facility.
When MassDEP or the local Board of Health requires an inspection.
Title 5 requires inspections for large systems, shared systems, and condominiums on a periodic basis.
Systems located in cities and towns with MassDEP-approved inspection programs are required to comply with local inspection requirements.
There are exceptions and nuances to the general requirements listed here. For example, no inspection is required if the owner has signed an enforceable agreement with the Board of Health to upgrade the system, connect to a sanitary sewer, or connect to a shared system within two years.
quoting from a more detailed document:
When is a [septic system] inspection required?
In general, Title 5 requires an inspection at the time of property transfer:
When a property is sold to new owners, or there otherwise is a transfer of title to new owners, with certain exceptions.
"Title 5 does not require a system inspection if the transfer is of residential real property, and is between the following relationships: (1) between current spouses; (2) between parents and their children; (3) between full siblings; and (4) where the grantor transfers the real property to be held in a revocable or irrevocable trust, where at least one of the designated beneficiaries is of the first degree of relationship to the grantor". [REF: MGL Ch21A s. 13]
When properties are divided or combined.
Even if there is not a sale or transfer of title, Title 5 requires an inspection when there is a change in use or an expansion of the facility. For example, conversion of a retail store to a restaurant requires an inspection.
How is the Septic Absorption Field Soil Condition and Seasonal High Groundwater Determined?
The following information about forming the soil profile is excerpted from Massachusetts 310 Cmr 15.000: The State Environmental Code, Title 5 - cited below.
Massachusetts Title 5 15.102: Deep Observation Hole Test
(1) The purpose of the deep observation hole test is to determine in accordance with 310 CMR
15.103 the soil profile in the proposed disposal area, the depth of overburden above ledge,
bedrock or impervious layer(s), and to determine the observed ground-water elevation at the time
of testing and to gather evidence to determine the adjusted ground-water elevation.
(2) A minimum of two deep observation hole tests shall be performed in the presence of the
Approving Authority at every proposed disposal area, two in the primary area and two in the
Additional testing shall be required if, in the opinion of the Soil Evaluator or the
Approving Authority, there is evidence of inconsistent soil characteristics, the presence of ledge,
or additional testing is necessary to properly assess site conditions within the proposed location
to ensure that it can be installed entirely on soils and slopes in conformance with the
requirements of 310 CMR 15.000.
When a trench system is to be designed with the reserve area
between the trenches, the Approving Authority may allow two deep hole observations if in the
opinion of the Approving Authority the two deep holes adequately characterize the soils in both
the primary and reserve areas.
(3) Deep observation holes shall be excavated in two adjoining segments, the first ending at
approximately the five-foot level to allow detailed examination by the Soil Evaluator without
need for shoring, and an adjoining segment which shall extend to a minimum depth of four feet
below the bottom elevation of the proposed soil absorption system but in no case less than ten
feet below existing/natural grade unless such depth is unattainable due to bedrock or refusal or
high groundwater, or where human safety may be in jeopardy.
(4) Every deep observation hole shall be located from known and recoverable reference points
or benchmarks so that it may be located on the system design plan with an accuracy of one foot.
The location of the hole shall be defined as being half way between the side walls of the
excavation at the point where the five foot deep segment adjoins the deeper segment.
(5) It shall be the responsibility of the owner or agent to ensure that every deep observation hole
is secured to prevent accidents whenever work is not in progress.
Massachusetts Title 5 15.103: Soil Profile
(1) The Soil Evaluator shall prepare a soil log using a form approved by the Department, in
accordance with the Department's most recent manual for Soil Evaluators.
(2) The following characteristics of each recognizable soil horizon or substratum in the deep observation hole testing shall be determined and recorded on the form:
(a) depth and thickness of horizon;
(b) estimated soil textural class, using the USDA/NRCS system of classification;
(c) estimated volume percentage of coarse fragments;
(d) abundance, size and contrast of redoximorphic features, if present;
(e) soil structure (soil profile pits only); and
(f) soil consistence.
(3) High ground-water elevation shall be determined by:
(a) soil color using the Munsell system, the abundance, size and contrast of redoximorphic
features, if present;
(b) one or more of the following methods may be used to supplement the method in
310 CMR 15.103(3)(a) and shall be used when no redoximorphic features are present:
1. observation of actual water table during times of annual high water table;
2. the use of USGS wells for correlating comparisons in water tables during times when the water table is not at the annual high range;
3. a Department-approved method for determining inland high ground-water elevation
as contained in Frimpter, M.H. “Probable High Groundwater Levels in Massachusetts,”
Open File Report 80-1205, USGS or Frimpter, M.H. and G.C. Belfit, 1992, “Estimating
highest ground-water levels for construction and land use planning, Cape Cod, Massachusetts,” updated, Barnstable, MA Cape Cod Commission Technical Bulletin 92 001”;
4. a Department-approved method for determining coastal high groundwater elevation
which incorporates tidal fluctuation information into the use of historical high
groundwater data as contained in Frimpter, M.H. and G.C. Belfit, 1992, "Estimating
highest ground-water levels for construction and land use planning, Cape Cod,
Massachusetts," updated, Barnstable, MA, Cape Cod Commission Technical Bulletin 92
001 or, if the location of the system is affected by tidal cycle typically within 300 feet of
mean high water of the ocean, monitoring the high groundwater elevation over a tidal
cycle during a full moon high tide.
(4) The Soil Evaluator shall indicate on the soil log whether four feet of naturally occurring pervious materials exist in all areas observed throughout the area proposed for the soil absorption system.
Title 5 General Information: Frequently Asked Questions, - retrieved 2017/08/06, original source [delete spaces to make a functional link] http://www.mass.gov/eea/ agencies/massdep/water/wastewater /title-5-general-information-frequently-asked-questions.htm l#WhathappensifIcannotmeettheminimumrequirementsofmaximumfeasiblecomplianceinrepairingafailedsystem
Question: what if my engineer says the Masschusetts Title 5 Inspector was Wrong?
No one seems to know the answer to this, if a title 5 inspector incorrectly fails a title 5 inspection and an engineer reviews the title 5 report and states why the system passed based on the test results and that the inspector added an improper and invalid additional test for high ground waters and writes and signs this on paper that the title 5 passed does the health department have to correct the report from fail to pass? - 2017/08/05
Reply: errors of fact should be corrected; differences of opinion may best left to stand.
Dan you ask a reasonable and important question about Title 5 inspections.
To give a credible answer we'd need to know more than is revealed in your question.
High Groundwater Elevation for a Title 5 inspection, should determined in accordance with Massachusetts 310 CMR 15.101, 15.102 and section
15.103. Those procedures are normally sufficient and clear.
I am worried about the possibility that a property owner, very understandably not wanting to have to amend or correct an unsanitary septic system, might become tempted to substitute a hired gun's paid-statement that the unsanitary system is in fact sanitary. If that is true, great. If that is not true but rather is a view produced by conflicting interests, the public stands to be harmed by an ineffective septic field that discharges contaminants into the environment, and into people's lives.
I agree that any professional, including a Title 5 inspector, can make a mistake of fact or procedure.
If/when that occurs the professional actually gains credibility by responding with a correction.
Title 5 Inspector's Public Duty
If, on the other hand, an inspector finds a condition that in her judgment as a trained, experienced, qualified professional, is unsafe or unsanitary, she must report it even if that report disappoints some other people involved.
Having gone through the training and having been certified as a Massachusetts Title 5 inspector myself, as well as having fielded complaints for a national inspection association as well as having served as an expert witness in building-related disputes, it is my OPINION that a property or septic system inspector who provides services to the public has a duty, similar to that of a licensed professional engineer, to protect the public's health and safety.
That opinion on my part is in fact supported by Massachusetts case law. In Tortorella v. Board of Health of Bourne , 39 Mass. App. Ct. 277 (1995) the
Court stated that it was a "paramount obligation [of the Board of Health] to protect the environment." This demonstrates that Title 5 is considered part of the state's environmental code as well as its public health law
Furthermore, the owner or a real estate agent can be held legally responsible for injury (including sickness) and financial loss should she impede a proper Title 5 inspection and report. Citing Case Law provided by Massachusetts: in Vanderwiel v. Jones , 1996 Mass.App.Div. 184 (1996)
"Real estate broker violated MGLA c.93A when she mistakenly believed that the house she was selling had no sewage problems and had a Title V system and negligently convinced the buyer not to have a septic system inspection."
About your Title 5 inspection, the Massachusetts Title 5 law is rather explicit about how inspections should be conducted. The report of seasonal high water level is a critical ingredient in that assessment, since if a septic absorption field, at any time, is soaked by ground water it will not be able to properly treat the sewage effluent.
A result is the discharge of effluent into the environment, potentially into nearby waterways and potentially into people's drinking water as well. There is a public health concern that is significant.
It might be possible to hire an engineer who would agree to give an opinion that the Title 5 inspector's conclusions were mistaken.
**IF** the Title 5 inspector made error(s) of fact, then it would be reasonable to ask the inspector to review those facts and to provide a corrected or amended report.
If there is more-honestly a difference of opinion between the two, with no factual basis for the engineer's view, then the inspector is obligated to report what in her best professional judgment is the actual situation at the property.
Relief for Homeowners Whose Septic System Fails Title 5
The Massachusetts Title 5 law does provide relief for homeowners whose septic system is limited in its ability to be brought fully up to Title 5 requirements.
The concept of maximum feasible compliance (MFC) is "do the best you can with what you've got." Wherever feasible, a failed system must be upgraded to full compliance with Title 5.
If this is not possible, in many instances the local Board of Health is authorized to approve a Local Upgrade Approval that brings the system as close to full compliance as possible in accordance with certain minimum criteria. (310 CMR 15.404-405). - www.mass.gov/eea/agencies/massdep/water/wastewater/title-5-general-information-frequently-asked-questions.html
That source [FAQs cited above in this article] continues with this explanation:
You generally will have to apply to the local Board of Health for a variance from Title 5 requirements. Title 5 provides a number of options for situations where a variance is required, including use of an innovative/alternative technology or a shared system.
In many cases, MassDEP also must approve a variance once it has been approved by the Board of Health.
Other Examples of Inspector's Duty to Protect Public Health & Safety
An inspector I know quite well encountered this situation when asked to inspect a structural problem in the basement of a multi-family rental property.
On opening the basement door and turning on the light switch, the switch exploded in a spray of sparks thanks to the building owner's "DIY" electrical wiring. In the basement, walking towards the area of inspection, she noticed in-passing that the flue vent connector had fallen off of the gas fired boiler, spilling potentially fatal flue gases and carbon monoxide into the building.
There were conditions that could kill or injure or sicken building occupants. They had to be reported to the building occupants and to the owner promptly. And had the owner not responded appropriately the inspector would have had no choice but to contact local building and fire officials.
Had the inspector not done so, she would have been personally, legally, and morally accountable and responsible should a loss, injury, or death occur in the building as a result of those conditions she saw.
Note: Below we reproduce some of the Massachusetts Title 5 Septic Inspection, Testing, Documenting documents for easy access. The state's website (see link just above) contains many other pertinent documents such as waste hauler permits, new construction permits, shared septic systems, Mass DEP approval of variance granted by Board of Health, and a board of health certificate of compliance.
Septic Tank/Soil-Absorption Systems: How to Operate & Maintain [ copy on file as /septic/Septic_Operation_USDA.pdf ] - , Equipment Tips, U.S. Department of Agriculture, 8271 1302, 7100 Engineering, 2300 Recreation, September 1982, web search 08/28/2010, original source: http://www.fs.fed.us/t-d/pubs/pdfimage/82711302.pdf.
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.)
Books & Articles on Building & Environmental Inspection, Testing, Diagnosis, & Repair
Advanced Onsite Wastewater Systems Technologies, Anish R. Jantrania, Mark A. Gross. Anish Jantrania, Ph.D., P.E., M.B.A., is a Consulting Engineer, in Mechanicsville VA, 804-550-0389 (2006). Outstanding technical reference especially on alternative septic system design alternatives. Written for designers and engineers, this book is not at all easy going for homeowners but is a text I recommend for professionals--DF.
Builder's Guide to Wells and Septic Systems, Woodson, R. Dodge: $ 24.95; MCGRAW HILL B; TP;
Quoting from Amazon's description: For the homebuilder, one mistake in estimating or installing wells and septic systems can cost thousands of dollars. This comprehensive guide filled with case studies can prevent that. Master plumber R. Dodge Woodson packs this reader-friendly guide with guidance and information, including details on new techniques and materials that can economize and expedite jobs and advice on how to avoid mistakes in both estimating and construction. Chapters cover virtually every aspect of wells and septic systems, including on-site evaluations; site limitations; bidding; soil studies, septic designs, and code-related issues; drilled and dug wells, gravel and pipe, chamber-type, and gravity septic systems; pump stations; common problems with well installation; and remedies for poor septic situations. Woodson also discusses ways to increase profits by avoiding cost overruns.
Country Plumbing: Living with a Septic System, Hartigan, Gerry: $ 9.95; ALAN C HOOD & TP;
Quoting an Amazon reviewer's comment, with which we agree--DF:This book is informative as far as it goes and might be most useful for someone with an older system. But it was written in the early 1980s. A lot has changed since then. In particular, the book doesn't cover any of the newer systems that are used more and more nowadays in some parts of the country -- sand mounds, aeration systems, lagoons, etc.
Design Manuals for Septic Systems
US EPA Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems Manual [online copy, free] Top Reference: US EPA's Design Manual for Onsite Wastewater Treatment and Disposal, 1980, available from the US EPA, the US GPO Superintendent of Documents (Pueblo CO), and from the National Small Flows Clearinghouse. Original source http://www.epa.gov/ORD/NRMRL/Pubs/625R00008/625R00008.htm Onsite wastewater treatment and disposal systems,
Richard J Otis, published by the US EPA. Although it's more than 20 years old, this book remains a useful reference for septic system designers.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Water Program Operations; Office of Research and Development, Municipal Environmental Research Laboratory; (1980)
"International Private Sewage Disposal Code," 1995, BOCA-708-799-2300, ICBO-310-699-0541, SBCCI 205-591-1853, available from those code associations.
"Manual of Policy, Procedures, and Guidelines for Onsite Sewage Systems," Ontario Reg. 374/81, Part VII of the Environmental
Protection Act (Canada), ISBN 0-7743-7303-2, Ministry of the Environment,135 St. Clair Ave. West, Toronto Ontario M4V 1P5 Canada $24. CDN.
Manual of Septic Tank Practice, US Public Health Service's 1959.
Onsite Wastewater Disposal Books
Onsite Wastewater Disposal, R. J. Perkins;
Quoting from Amazon: This practical book, co-published with the National Environmental Health Association,
describes the step-by-step procedures needed to avoid common pitfalls in septic system technology.
Valuable in matching the septic system to the site-specific conditions, this useful book will help you install a reliable system in
both suitable and difficult environments. Septic tank installers, planners, state and local regulators, civil and sanitary engineers,
consulting engineers, architects, homeowners, academics, and land developers will find this publication valuable.
Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems, Bennette D. Burks, Mary Margaret Minnis, Hogarth House 1994 - one of the best septic system books around, suffering a bit from small fonts and a weak index. While it contains some material more technical than needed by homeowners, Burks/Minnis book on onsite wastewater treatment systems a very useful reference for both property owners and septic system designers.
Septic Tank/Soil-Absorption Systems: How to Operate & Maintain [ copy on file as /septic/Septic_Operation_USDA.pdf ] - , Equipment Tips, U.S. Department of Agriculture, 8271 1302, 7100 Engineering, 2300 Recreation, September 1982, web search 08/28/2010, original source: http://www.fs.fed.us/t-d/pubs/pdfimage/82711302.pdf
Septic System Owner's Manual, Lloyd Kahn, Blair Allen, Julie Jones, Shelter Publications, 2000 $14.95 U.S. - easy to understand, well illustrated, one of the best practical references around on septic design basics including some advanced systems; a little short on safety and maintenance. Both new and used (low priced copies are available, and we think the authors are working on an updated edition--DF.
Quoting from one of several Amazon reviews: The basics of septic systems, from underground systems and failures to what the owner can do to promote and maintain a healthy system, is revealed in an excellent guide essential for any who reside on a septic system. Rural residents receive a primer on not only the basics; but how to conduct period inspections and what to do when things go wrong. History also figures into the fine coverage.
Grass is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank, Bombeck, Erma: $ 5.99; FAWCETT; MM;
This septic system classic whose title helps avoid intimidating readers new to septic systems, is available new or used at very low prices.
It's more entertainment than a serious "how to" book on septic systems design, maintenance, or repair. Not recommended -- DF.
US EPA Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems Manual Top Reference: US EPA's Design Manual for Onsite Wastewater Treatment and Disposal, 1980, available from the US EPA, the US GPO Superintendent of Documents (Pueblo CO), and from the National Small Flows Clearinghouse. Original source http://www.epa.gov/ORD/NRMRL/Pubs/625R00008/625R00008.htm
Water Wells and Septic Systems Handbook, R. Dodge Woodson. This book is in the upper price range, but is worth the cost for serious septic installers and designers.
Quoting Amazon: Each year, thousands upon thousands of Americans install water wells and septic systems on their properties. But with a maze of codes governing their use along with a host of design requirements that ensure their functionality where can someone turn for comprehensive, one-stop guidance? Enter the Water Wells and Septic Systems Handbook from McGraw-Hill. Written in language any property owner can understand yet detailed enough for professionals and technical students this easy-to-use volume delivers the latest techniques and code requirements for designing, building, rehabilitating, and maintaining private water wells and septic systems. Bolstered by a wealth of informative charts, tables, and illustrations, this book delivers: * Current construction, maintenance, and repair methods
* New International Private Sewage Disposal Code
* Up-to-date standards from the American Water Works Association
Wells and Septic Systems, Alth, Max and Charlet, Rev. by S. Blackwell Duncan, $ 18.95; Tab Books 1992. We have found this text very useful for conventional well and septic systems design and maintenance --DF.
Quoting an Amazon description:Here's all the information you need to build a well or septic system yourself - and save a lot of time, money, and frustration. S. Blackwell Duncan has thoroughly revised and updated this second edition of Wells and Septic Systems to conform to current codes and requirements. He also has expanded this national bestseller to include new material on well and septic installation, water storage and distribution, water treatment, ecological considerations, and septic systems for problem building sites.
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