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Environmental specialist enjoying diversity of job

April 04, 2012
When a person calls the Crawford County Health Department, the telephone recording gives several options from which to choose. One of those options is "Environmental Health." And what is Environmental Health? Well, that's Eric Satterfield's department.

Eric Satterfield became the environmental health specialist at the Crawford County Health Department last August. Then, after Marguerite Cox retired as the county’s food inspector, he assumed those duties, too. Photo by Lee Cable
Satterfield, who has been Crawford County's environmental health specialist since August, is the first guy in the county people must visit before they can install a septic system for their new or existing home. He's also the guy who inspects the kitchens in the county's restaurants, schools, concession vendors and even the jail at least twice a year.

"There's both county and state rules in place for a reason," Satterfield said. "And if everyone follows the rules, they can expect fewer problems."

Those rules apply to all parts of Satterfield's job, and he "bends over backward to help people solve their problems" before they become larger issues. Although he has the authority to enforce the rules and even set the stage for fines, he'd much rather work with people and make sure things are done right.

A large part of his job has to do with septic tank and lateral (drain) line installations. Anyone who builds a new home, installs a manufactured home or needs to repair an existing septic system must first apply for a permit from Satterfield's office, which is located in the health department in English.

"Then, we have to have a soil scientist test the soil where the septic system will be placed," Satterfield said. "The ground has to be suitable in order for a septic system to work well. There's a lot more to it than meets the eye — more than just a septic tank and a drain line. There also needs to be a distribution box to direct the water coming from the tank to one of several lateral lines. And the amount of lines needed depends on the size of the home and the number of people who will be living there. There's a formula we use to determine that."

Satterfield said the local tradesmen who install septic systems know their business and want to do a good job. Once they get the system installed, he has to inspect the entire system before it's covered with dirt.

"The installers are easy to work with, which makes my job easier," he said. "They know what they're doing and want the system to work well. And they know they'll be called back if something isn't working right."

Satterfield said several people have applied for permits already this spring but the ground has been too wet to test properly.

"But things will start picking up pretty soon," he added.

Satterfield advises people to have their septic tanks pumped out every two or three years.

"If it's installed right, and if solids are kept out of the lateral lines, a system will last for years and years," he said. "The new systems all have filters that keep solids from leaving the septic tank and getting into the lateral lines. Once the lateral lines are stopped up, you're done. But if you don't have a filter in your tank, when you have it pumped out, a filter can be installed at that time."

Satterfield, 45, has been in the construction business most of his life and comes from a family of three generations of carpenters and builders.

"That's about all I've ever done," he said. "When I saw that this job was available, I thought it would be a job I'd like. I enjoy being outside, and I still get to be outdoors a lot doing this."

Marguerite Cox was the food inspector for the county for several years, but she retired in December. Now, the job has been given to Satterfield in addition to his other duties, so he'll be the person who inspects the vendors at all the festivals and temporary events this summer.

"But I'm not here to cause a headache for people; I just work with them and help them get in compliance," he added. "But it will be a busy summer."

Satterfield and his wife, Patty, have one daughter and live at Milltown.

He can be reached at the Crawford County Health Department every weekday except Wednesday at 338-2302. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, he is in his office until 6 p.m.

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