Videos and Articles related to the Health Hazards at Lake Tapps

EMMY Award winner Tracy Vedder of KOMO 4 News Seattle investigated the issue of
Dan Fishburn who lost his dream home on Lake Tapps, Washington. KOMO is currently
working on a documentary, as there is so much more to the story of Lake Tapps.

 

 

KOMO 4 News Seattle

LAKE TAPPS, Wash. -- What do you call a $1.6 million home when the septic system leaks all over the yard?

When the interior is ravaged by toxic mold and scavengers? And when the crawl space is a wading pool?

"Hell," says the owner Dan Fishburn. "I mean it's just complete hell."

This hell started three years ago when Dan Fishburn and his family, "pinched and saved and scrimped," to buy what they thought was their Lake Tapps dream home. Fishburn says they'd looked for a place on this lake for nearly 10 years, "and this seemed like the absolute perfect thing."

What Fishburn didn't know was that Lake Tapps has a smelly history. The Problem Solvers obtained documents indicating that decades-ago, Pierce County, the state Department of Ecology, even the Federal Environmental Protection Agency knew Lake Tapps had numerous, serious problems with septic systems. A 1975 letter from the Pierce County Health Department calls the soils in the area, "marginal for septic tank sewage disposal." While a sewer was eventually installed on the west side of Lake Tapps, the -at that time- rural east side was not.
 

  KOMO 4 News Seattle
Summary: The Fishburns pinched and saved to
buy their Lake Tapps dream home, only to have
the house become unlivable after issues with the
septic systems -- a problem they allege
the county
and government have known about for years
.

We also found evidence in letters and phone calls to Pierce County Planningand Land Services in the early 1990's that several neighbors reported seeing wetlands filled in and the shoreline extended out to make and enlarge the property where Fishburn's home was later built.

But Fishburn knew nothing of that. No one told him.

"This is the best kept, open secret in the history of the state of Washington," says Fishburn. "Bar none."

Then the fall rains hit, Lake Tapps rose, and Fishburn's septic system flooded, sending sewage into showers and tubs, and his yard.

Two years later, Fishburn met with us at his now vacant home to perform a dye test of the septic system. Our cameras watch as green dye in the septic tank works through the top of the line system, and within minutes the drain field starts dumping fluorescent green water onto Fishburn's lawn. As he scoops up a jarful of the neon green fluid he said, "that came straight from the septic tank."

"Well down here is into the crawl space where Lake Tapps is," he says. It isn't just the septic system that floods. Even in the middle of the summer the crawl space beneath his home is underwater. As we watch Fishburn step down into the five foot high space - his boots are submerged in at least a foot of clear water. "This is from Lake Tapps," he tells us.

Heavy pond liners, a half dozen sump pumps, and criss-crossing nets of power cables sit idly in that crawl space -- they can't hold back the water. Fishburn grieves aloud, "I mean we did everything that anyone could possibly think of to try to save this house - I mean everything."

Inside the home, the floors and walls bear the scars of where all the fixtures and flooring have been removed in an attempt to salvage some value. Meanwhile, toxic mold grows everywhere. At the entrance gate sits a sun-bleached red tag, proclaiming by order of the Pierce County Health Department the home cannot be lived in.

Fishburn's dream home is worthless -- not even the bank will foreclose and take it off his hands. "I'm stuck in a perpetual, never-ending nightmare."

Worst of all, Fishburn says the horror of what has happened to his dream home wasn't unexpected. He says Pierce County knew no one should ever build here. He is suing County Planning and the Health Department for approving permits for a house he says never should have been built. Neither agency would talk to us about this case because of the litigation, but did answer general questions. Dennis Tone, Environmental Health Supervisor with the Health Department told us that septic system failures in new homes are rare: "it's infrequent."

He also said that septic problems are no worse on Lake Tapps than any other area of the county. Since 1998, the last year for which he says they can access records, Tone says they've had 20 septic complaints in the Lake Tapps area and have experienced six confirmed failures. "I haven't run into a system that we couldn't fix."

But Fishburn believes his home is just the extreme example of problems throughout the area; problems he believes everyone wants to ignore.

"I get calls from people threatening me, harassing me, they vandalize the house, because they don't want me to talk about this - they don't want this story out."

Fishburn says ethically he felt he had to go public with this information even though it won't help his situation and may even make it worse. But he doesn't want anyone else caught off guard and stuck, like he is.