Published on 01/31/13

Chatham 4-H'ers educate community on E. coli and septic systems

By Capri Martinez

When 16 Chatham County 4-H’ers noticed an outbreak of E. coli cases in their community, they immediately sprung into action. Their 4-H club partnered with the Chatham County Metropolitan Planning Commission, Savannah's Environmental Planning Department, the Department of Community Affairs and local elected officials to organize and implement a program addressing E. coli in the county's waterways.

The youths spent two years perfecting an outreach program called “E. coli Stinks!” The project was the brainchild of Chatham County 4-H’ers whom attended the Georgia Youth Summit. The summit is a statewide program sponsored by Georgia 4-H and the Department of Community Affairs as part of the Georgia Rural Development Council's Youth Leadership Initiative. It encourages teams of 4-H’ers to recognize an issue in their community and address it. The county teams are eligible for competitive mini-grants to fund their programs.

The Chatham County 4-H’ers interviewed and surveyed 207 families with septic tanks in preparation for "E. coli Stinks!"

"We have problem areas that have septic tanks. People think that you can move into houses with septic tanks and not have to maintain them," said Chatham County 4-H Agent Trish West.

The 4-H’ers also developed post follow-up surveys for the families, attended three Savannah City Council meetings to raise awareness for their project and developed seven educational models that were viewed by more than 14,000 residents at local events. They created a public service announcement that currently airs on local television stations.

The post survey revealed approximately 85 percent of the families were more aware of septic tank safety and the dangers of E. coli, and 75 percent pledged to do more septic tank maintenance. Based on this data and the youths’ project, the Metropolitan Planning Commission is seeking official regulations and compliances for septic tank owners.

To view the “E. coli Stinks!” PSA visit

Capri Martinez is a Georgia 4-H AmeriCorps VISTA member.

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