As a homeowner, did you know that it’s your responsibility to adequately treat your sewage if you have a septic tank? A septic system is an underground tank in your yard that you should have been told about if your home uses a well. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 25 percent of U.S. homes have on-site sewage disposal systems, and 4 billion gallons of wastewater is processed through them. Why should you care? Well, neglecting your septic tank can cause groundwater impurities, which can lead to drinking water contamination. People and animals consuming tainted water can experience nose, ear and eye infections–even more serious problems such as acute gastrointestinal illness and hepatitis.
Basically, septic systems treat household wastewater for reuse, which is important considering that only one percent of the world’s water supply is available for human consumption. However, did you know that a number of factors such as plant roots and improper care can prevent your tank from doing its job? Regular monitoring and maintenance keeps money in your pocket and impure water from contaminating valuable groundwater. Even if you have no knowledge of sewage disposal systems, there are simple guidelines you can follow.
Processor for Wastewater
The purpose of a septic tank is to treat domestic wastewater. Pipes from your home lead to the underground septic system. Inside the concrete structure, scum (oil and grease) floats while sludge (solids) sinks leaving wastewater in the middle of the two. A screen and a t-shaped outlet pipe allow only wastewater to leave the tank for dispersal into the drainfield. Here the water percolates into the soil and is naturally purified.
Protecting Your Asset
The key to preventing a costly septic failure is to inspect and pump regularly. An inspector will uncover the tank’s manhole to measure scum and sludge as well as check for sewage backup, tank leaks and malfunctioning components.
The EPA suggests tanks be pumped when the bottom of the scum is within six inches or the top of the sludge is within 12 inches of the outlet pipe. Sanitarian at the Mahoning County District Board of Health, Wesley Vins, RS, recommends that septic tanks be pumped every three to five years. Vins says, “the effluent from malfunctioning systems can significantly degrade surface water quality and potentially create a public health nuisance.”
Even using your water supply efficiently can make a difference. When you leave water running, avoid repairing a leaky toilet or run the dishwasher when it’s half full, unnecessary amounts of water are sent to the tank for treatment. Also, watch what you flush down the toilet, because items such as feminine hygiene products, household chemicals, cigarette butts, cat litter, etc. can disturb the biological environment within the system and inhibit proper water cleansing.
Drainfield = Sacred Ground
The drainfield is where wastewater exits the septic system and leaches into the soil so bacteria, viruses and nutrients can be removed. To locate your drainfield, obtain your home’s “as-built” drawing, which is filed with your local land records. This area should be off limits to everything except grass.
Roots from trees and shrubs can clog this area and even create cracks in the tank. Also, since this section of lawn will be saturated, divert traffic and additional water from the drainfield. For example, parked cars will compact the soil, and rainwater runoff from the roof could cause flooding.
Septic systems are meant to be somewhat invisible, but you don’t want to ignore them until you see sewage in your backyard. Instead save yourself the hassle and expense by using these preventative measures, because if you’re toilets start backing up, there is no doubt you will wish you had been more pro-active.