With every flush of the toilet, our waste mysteriously disappears out of sight and out of mind. That is until an unfortunate malfunction with the septic tank leaves our home and yard a disgusting mess. Septic tanks are designed to function efficiently and as long as they are taken care of properly, you should never have and issue.
This article will explain some of the dangers associated with septic tanks and how to avoid any mishaps.
How Septic Tanks Work
First of all, we need a quick run through on how exactly how the septic systems function. The septic system is a wastewater treatment system which accepts the biological sanitary waste discharged from your home. After flowing into the septic tank, wastewater is separated into solids, which settle to the bottom, and the remaining wastewater that then flows to the drain. The lightest particles form a layer at the top of the tank which is removed during the purging process of the septic tank.
Of the solids that accumulate at the bottom of the tank, around 50% of them decompose while the remaining solids need removing. The effluent is split into a few pipes which lead to gravel trenches that act as a natural filter, along with the soil below, where microorganisms break down impurities before any fluid reaches the groundwater.
According to the US Census Bureau, approximately 25% of the homes in the US are operating with on-site septic systems, meaning household effluent is trickling towards the groundwater right next to these homes. This can lead to some tricky complications if these septic systems experience extended periods of stress. Improperly functioning systems can lead to sewage backups, rising sludge above ground into yards, excessive algal growth and contamination of the groundwater supplies.
All working systems require maintenance to function properly as time passes and septic systems are no exception. If the level of sludge increases beyond the systems ability to dissipate it through the gravel and soil below, more large particles escape into this gravel absorption field. Sludge that escapes into the absorption field can impede overall function.
Periodic pumping can help to avoid this, but when avoided, higher than normal levels of nitrates, bacteria and viruses can make their way into precious drinking water below and even contaminate surface recreational waters. Skin, eye and respiratory infections caused by fungi can grow in sewage and sewage sludge making it’s leaching even more dangerous.
Also, homeowners wells that are on the same property are also in danger of becoming contaminated. This would compromise drinking water more directly and quickly before touching underground sources. That is direct contamination to homeowner’s water.
Although it may be less common for residential homes, septic tanks pose a structural threat as well. Tanks can collapse and pose safety hazards for people in the area. Impacting future renovations and additions on homes may arise too. Tanks that are not properly maintained may not be able to support sustained vehicular traffic or other structures that could be built on the property. It is quite rare that septic tanks are excavated from a site and it is likely due to the necessary precautions involved with doing so.
Handling and disposing of raw waste materials and the structures that contain them require expensive and extensive methods. This isn’t always a feasible option and that is why the easiest solution is to avoid this archaic method of residential wastewater treatment altogether.
Understanding the time and place for septic system use is important as we move forward with future development and they are systems best fit for rural communities where centralized sewer is not monetarily feasible. In this case, septic systems can be utilized and maintained properly. It is when density comes into play that septic systems and when to avoid them becomes a bit more tricky.
We have done a good job recently in ridding these systems in more dense metropolitan areas through municipal building codes but the threat of old systems is still a lingering risk we will have to continue to address as time passes.