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Illegal and hazardous septic systems lead to emergency order from Department of Environmental Quality

A person wearing jeans stands over an open septic lid. There's a lot of clay-y dirt and some dead leaves around the opening. A section of thick black hose is visible in the top left corner.
Matthew D. Wheeler
Septic tank installation usually costs $6000-$8000, so it's important to seek out a certified installer.

The Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality has issued an emergency order against Garrison Shann for installing unlicensed and hazardous septic systems in northern Oklahoma.

Shann installed at least 70 illegal, unpermitted aerobic septic systems in Payne County and Noble County, for which he has been fined $31,500 so far. The DEQ deemed 15 of those systems an imminent threat to human health and issued the emergency order to revoke Shann’s license immediately.

“They were having extreme issues where you were having the sewage back up in the house, sewage back up in the yard,” said Erin Hatfield with the DEQ.

When working correctly, aerobic septic systems treat sewage and release the leftover water, often using lawn sprinklers. But, some of the systems Shann installed were releasing untreated wastewater.

“If you have a sprinkler system applying just raw sewage, that's a bad situation,” Hatfield said.

The DEQ learned of Shann’s illegal and improper septic system installations through their Environmental Complaints and Local Services program.

“They tend to have a better feel for what's going on more quickly than we do in the central office because they live and work in the community,” Hatfield said.

Online reviewers also alleged several complaints of Shann’s business, Aerobic Systems of Stillwater.

Records from Payne County District Court allege that Shann agreed to purchase Aerobic Systems of Stillwater in 2017, but has failed to make payments for the business since this May. Last month, the previous owner petitioned Shann for the $160,000 he allegedly owes on the business.

Many Oklahomans in both rural and suburban settings use septic tanks, and installing a new one is often a $6,000 to $8,000 investment. People who need to install septic systems can consult the DEQ’s list of certified installers, Hatfield said.

Hatfield also encourages people to be vigilant when installing a new septic system.

“When you put in a system, you will get paperwork from DEQ,” Hatfield said. “If you don't, you need to reach out to us and make sure that you do have a permitted system.”

Graycen Wheeler is a reporter covering water issues at KOSU as a corps member with Report for America.
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