Illegal dumping into the sewer manholes has become such a problem in Clayton County that officials are asking for the public's help in identifying offenders.
Suzanne Brown, spokeswoman for the Clayton County Water Authority, said no one has been caught or identified.
"We do have cases where we believe that's what's going on," she said. "We haven't caught anybody yet. It seems to be pretty common in any community out there."
Only uniformed water authority workers are allowed access to the county's manholes for maintenance or monitoring devices, said Jim Poff, water reclamation manager.
"Yet it appears grease, oil or septic tank effluent is sometimes being dumped directly into a sewer manhole," he said. "This is illegal and a potentially dangerous situation that can result in clogged or overflowing sewer lines, accumulation of toxic or explosive gases or environmental damage."
Illegal dumpers, which seem to be primarily commercial businesses, target manhole covers in sparsely populated areas. Poff said there are thousands of manholes in the county so it is impossible to monitor activity.
"This activity often happens at night or on weekends in partially-developed or abandoned subdivisions," said Poff. "This is prime territory. We try to weld those inactive manholes shut but it is too easy to break the weld."
Examples include a commercial vacuum truck emptying its contents into a public manhole or the dumping of construction materials or consumer waste. Poff said there is only one place the contents of a septic tank can be disposed of and that's at the water reclamation plant.
"And you have to be permitted," he said. "Anywhere else is illegal."
But only four waste haulers hold Clayton County permits, according to the water authority's web site. Those haulers are also required to carry manifest information on the source of the waste.
"They have to keep paperwork on what they have in their trucks and where it came from," said Poff. "Homeowners need to be careful about choosing a disposal company and get that three-part manifest. If they go price, they may end up with an unethical hauler. They undercut the honest and ethical companies because they are not paying the proper disposal cost."
Illegal dumpers face serious consequences, depending on the severity of the infraction.
"They can have their truck taken away or fined," he said. "If they have a permit, it can be revoked. If they have an account with us, there can be administrative charges. And they could face criminal charges."
If the wrong toxic substances get into the system, it can kill off a wastewater treatment plant.
"It takes a while to get the plants back up and running after something like that because the bacteria has to have time to grow," said Poff. "Offenders can be made to pay the costs incurred in that process."
Anyone with information on illegal dumpers should call the 24-hour line (770) 478-7496, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.