Cleaning a Tipped Over Unit

There’s no quick and easy answer for properly rinsing out a dirty unit if you don’t have a system to contain spillage.


The landlord at my warehouse doesn't want me doing a hose-down on dirty restrooms in his yard. What can I do? Is it illegal to do cleanouts onto the ground? This is just for when a unit gets pushed over and it’s full of waste on the walls. Do I need to set up a reclaim basin and pump it out? What is standard? What about when a unit gets pushed over onsite and there is waste on the ground?


In the early 1990s, I was asked by a large plumbing shop in Los Angeles to design an outside wash bay for their fleet of vans. The city had cited them repeatedly for soap suds trailing down the driveway and dumping into the storm system at the curb when they washed their trucks.

The board of health didn’t want any soaps, oils or other hazardous or poisonous wastes discharged onto the ground. It’s an environmental issue for them. After considerable discussion with the board of health and plumbing inspectors, here’s the (then $20,000) fix. I was asked to submit drawings and show all load calculations for “stamped” approval.

1. Permits required: plumbing, health department, electrical and concrete.

2. Install an interceptor in the ground. It was about the size of a septic tank.

3. There was a 4-inch vent that extended at least 10 feet above the flood rim.

4. The tank would overflow to the city sewer.

5. A slab was constructed over the tank, all sides pitched to the inlet (steel trough drain).

6. The slab needed two steel access covers over the primary and secondary tanks for cleaning. Then, you had to compensate for rainwater so it didn’t go to the sewer during a rain.

7. Either put a roof over the slab or put in a motorized backwater valve on the inlet. We put in the motorized valve that was activated by a rain switch on the roof of the adjacent building. When it rained, the valve automatically closed, blocking rainwater from entering the tank. When it stopped raining, the valve would open, allowing wastewater discharges to enter the system again.

8. Add another access plate in the slab for the motor.

9. Add in all of the electrical on a dedicated circuit.

10. All three access plates were waterproof, (bolt-down lids with gaskets).

If you don’t have a sewer, then they might allow a reclaim pit you can pump.


The best advice I can give is to check with the local authorities. The federal Clean Water Act says no off-property discharge. Many states and cities interpret guidelines differently. You need someone in local government to tell you the rules for your area. Try your state Department of Environmental Quality, if you have one.


For field procedures, you should get certified by the Portable Sanitation Association International. Certification will cover response to tipovers and the like. If we know about it ahead of time, we trade the tipover units out and deal with them at the yard. There we put the unit on a containment tray and use a Gamajet to clean the inside. Then we pump out the containment tray with the truck.

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