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Law Would Ban RV Holding Tank Chemicals in California

Originally Published in MotorHome Magazine

California Assemblyman Bill Monning, D-Santa Cruz, has introduced
legislation that would force the state to ban the use of six chemicals
that have proven to be capable of damaging various types of septic
systems while posing significant threats to groundwater supplies.

The legislation, AB 1824, would ban the use of holding tank
products containing bronopol, dowicil, formaldehyde, glutaraldehyde,
paraformaldehyde and para-dichlorobenzene, according to a news release.

“We fully support this legislation and think it will encourage
businesses to step up their marketing and distribution of
environmentally friendly holding tank products in California,” said
Debbie Sipe, executive director of the California Association of RV
Parks and Campgrounds (CalARVC), which has spent the past five years
trying to find ways to protect its members’ septic systems and nearby
groundwater supplies without forcing private park operators to become
“potty police.”

California, in fact, has a blemished record of enforcing holding tank regulations.

In 2005, the State Water Resources Control Board sent cease and
desist letters to 25 RV parks and campgrounds in Southern California
notifying them that they must not allow RVs to empty waste into their
septic systems. In addition, the state closed down at least two state
park dump stations. At the same time, the state board was writing new
septic system regulations that would make it illegal for RV parks and
campgrounds to allow “deleterious or biocide” products to be dumped into
septic systems.

“In order to prevent RV parks and businesses from having to
play ‘potty police’ with their guests, we asked the California
Department of Substance Control to review its 1979 law banning toxic,
non-biodegradable chemicals from RV and boat holding tanks,” Sipe said.

After pressing the issue for three years, the Department of
Toxic Substances Control sent Sipe a letter in April 2008 confirming
that the formaldehyde used in RV holding tank products was prohibited
under state law. It took the state agency another nine months to
complete a fact sheet explaining the prohibition under the 1979 law,
which it posted on its website. Sipe sent copies of the posting to
manufacturers and distributors of chemically based holding tank

But after a single company disputed the state’s findings, Sipe
said the Department of Toxic Substances Control buckled and removed the
fact sheet from its website, signaling that it wasn’t serious about
enforcing the 1979 law.

Sipe then sent letters to the CEOs of major retailers and
distributors of chemically based holding tank products, including
Wal-Mart and Camping World, asking them to refrain from selling
chemical-based RV holding tank products in California.

Sipe suggested these companies could make a positive statement
on this issue by announcing their decision to ban chemically based
holding tank products and instead carry environmentally friendly holding
tank products before April 22, 2009, when the nation was to celebrate
Earth Day.

No one took her up on the offer.

That may change, however, if Assemblyman Monning’s proposed
legislation banning the use of six non-biodegradable chemicals in
holding tank products becomes law.

“Perhaps after this legislation is approved,” Sipe said,
“companies that market chemically-based holding tank products will see
that they have more to gain, economically and otherwise, by marketing
and distributing environmentally friendly holding tank products.”

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