An Informational Interview with a Health and Environmental Investigator
While interning at Public Health – Seattle & King County, I was fortunate enough to shadow professionals in Environmental Health Services. One of these individuals was Kyla, a Health and Environmental Investigator who mainly focused on complaints regarding on-site sewage systems in King County.
Kyla explained that her process for inspecting a septic tank begins with someone complaining of an odor, sewage above a drain field, or a report from the tank’s maintainer that the system is not working properly. She also communicates with the complainant about the issue. For our first inspection, the complainant was able to take pictures of their neighbor’s property to help pinpoint where the odor and waste appeared to be coming from when she arrived. In addition to bringing the complaint notes and maintainer records, before heading out to the site Kyla also prepares a diagram that includes the septic tank, the property, and structures on the property. Upon arrival, she will try to find the homeowner or a tenant to get permission to enter their property and inspect the tank and drain field. If no one is home, viewing the tank and field can also be done from nearby public land, or by asking the neighboring complainant for permission to view the septic system from their property. During the inspection, she documents odors, the status of the tank, and any effluent seen by taking notes and pictures. If there is possible effluent on the drainage field, green fluorescent dye can be flushed down the toilet and can be seen in the drainage field a few days later to know for sure.
Likes and Dislikes
The most rewarding part of Kyla’s job is being able to assist homeowners and residents with solving their septic tank issues, which can become unpleasant for the residents and people nearby if left untreated. If there is effluent on the drainage field, an unappealing aspect can be the smell and having to walk in the sewage if the case is severe enough. Since the majority of inspections take place on rural land, a downside is that entering large and isolated properties can pose a risk to safety, so site visits are done in pairs. However, visiting rural land for site inspections gives Kyla the opportunity to explore King County and visit forests and farmland, which is a unique aspect of her job.
Septic tank records (otherwise known as “as builts”) are filed on paper or film. While the notes that Kyla makes at the inspection sites get transferred into electronic form, she explained that Public Health plans to store the diagrams electronically in the future as well.