Septic tank systems are essential in regions where municipal sewer lines and treatment plants are not practical due to low population. Whether building your dream home or buying an existing home, it is important to understand the type of systems for the drainage and treatment of wastewater. Some neighborhoods are on public utility sewer systems and some neighborhoods use septic systems. In many instances, the choice of what system you will need to use will be based on the planning and zoning municipality where your property is located. If the area has a sewer system, the home is more likely to be connected to that system. However, a septic system gives the freedom to live in a rural area not served by a sewer system or where the connection to a sewer system is too expensive.
A septic system has different stages that the water and waste from your home go through before it’s released into the soil. As the water leaves your home, it goes through different tanks and hoses until it’s cleared to be dispersed. The natural bacteria within the system help to break down the waste as it goes through and pushes it through to the next step.
If you have a septic tank system, and you are wondering if they are good for the environment, make sure to keep reading.
How does a Septic System Work?
Septic systems are underground wastewater treatment structures, commonly used in rural areas without centralized sewer systems. They use a combination of nature and proven technology to treat wastewater from household plumbing produced by bathrooms, kitchen drains, and laundry.
A typical septic system consists of a septic tank and a drainfield, or soil absorption field.
The septic tank digests organic matter and separates floatable matter (e.g., oils and grease) and solids from the wastewater. Soil-based systems discharge the liquid (known as effluent) from the septic tank into a series of perforated pipes buried in a leach field, chambers, or other special units designed to slowly release the effluent into the soil.
Alternative systems use pumps or gravity to help septic tank effluent trickle through sand, organic matter (e.g., peat and sawdust), constructed wetlands, or other media to remove or neutralize pollutants like disease-causing pathogens, nitrogen, phosphorus, and other contaminants. Some alternative systems are designed to evaporate wastewater or disinfect it before it is discharged to the soil.
Are Septic Systems Bad for the Environment?
Over the last couple of decades, we as a society have become much more conscious of how our decisions and our lifestyles impact our planet. We are much more away of landfills, endangered wildlife species and our reliance on plastic. The amount of waste we produce each year is increasing steadily increasing and those with the option of septic systems might be wondering if the system is bad for the environment.
The simple answer is no.
With proper care and maintenance, your system can be an efficient and environmentally responsible way to manage household wastewater. However, an improperly cared for system can create negative environmental impacts that could be a threat to the health of the community. Luckily it is easy to avoid this type of catastrophe.
The Problem With Gases
When a septic system is failing, the fumes that are released from the various gasses built up in the septic tank can be toxic to humans and pets. Methane, for example, is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, flammable gas. Although it is non-toxic, methane is a “simple asphyxiant” because it can displace oxygen, which is needed for breathing. Methane is also extremely flammable and can explode quite easily.
Nitrate poses a significant threat to the health of human infants. When ingested, nitrate can interfere with the blood’s ability to carry oxygen, causing methemoglobinemia or “blue baby” syndrome.
Sulfide gas is another common septic emission that can cause trouble. The odor is commonly described as smelling like rotten eggs. Exposure to low levels of this chemical can irritate the eyes, cause a cough or sore throat, shortness of breath and fluid accumulation in the lungs. Prolonged low-level exposure may cause fatigue, pneumonia, loss of appetite, headaches, irritability, memory loss and dizziness. High concentrations of hydrogen sulfide can cause loss of consciousness and death.
3 Tips to Keep Your Septic System Healthy
Let’s look at some of the ways that you can responsibly care for your septic system to prevent problems.
- Flush Responsibly
One of the best ways to keep a healthy septic system is to flush responsibly. This means no feminine products, no coffee grounds, grease, harsh chemicals, etc. Things such as toilet wipes, coffee grounds, harsh chemicals, and many more can be damaging and slow your systems efficiency. These things should not be flushed into any system, including the public sewer system. They do not decompose and can create large blockages in both a septic system and in the larger sewer system pipes.
- Avoid grease
This is the most important tip we have for you – never flush grease down your drains! The grease will thicken up in your pipes and cause more serious issues later on. Many people pour excess grease down the drain while running hot water thinking that this will allow it to drain without any problems. This may work fine in the drain lines inside the house. However, further down the line as this grease travels into your septic system, it will begin to solidify and can easily clog your system creating backup and a variety of potential problems.
- Don’t DIY Clean
One of the worst things you can do for your drains is DIY cleaning solutions or harsh chemicals. They can damage both the natural bacteria that keeps your system running smoothly and the septic tank itself. These quick fixes may seem cost effective in the short run but when faced with repairing a damaged or under functioning septic tank, you will quickly realize that this is a process best left to the professionals. If you need septic tank cleaning, always call West Coast Sanitation.
Septic Tank Safety Tips
It is crucial to always observe safety measures in and around your septic tank system, especially by the septic tank opening. Educate yourself, your family, or your staff on all safety precautions within the vicinity of your septic system, especially when they are working on or near the septic areas.
- Septic Lids
Your septic tank access port should be protected with a sturdy lid at all times. High-grade septic tank covers are not easily removed, and this is important to keep children in the property safe. If you are uncertain of the location of your septic tank, a professional septic system provider can help you in determining the placement of every component of your septic tank system. It is wise to keep “as-built” records and diagrams of your septic tank system for future reference.
- Use Caution Around an Open Tank
As much as you can help it, never lean over the opening of a septic tank. The gases that emanate from the tank could be noxious enough to make you black out and fall into the tank, which could be highly fatal.
- Know Where Electrical Lines Are Located
When digging at any part of your yard, make sure to watch out for electrical or mechanical lines that are buried underground. Cutting through these lines, most especially around a septic system can be extremely dangerous.
- Never Drive or Park Over the Tank
Heavy vehicles, machinery, or equipment driving or parked over a system can compact the ground soil and apply excessive stress upon the system. Repairing broken pipes and/or collapsed septic systems can be quite expensive.
How Often Should a Septic Tank Be Emptied?
Most septic tanks only need to be pumped every three to five years, depending on the size of the tank and the amount of people in your home. If you are not sure how often you need to perform this maintenance task, you can talk to your septic tank pumping company to find out how often this service is recommended based on the size of the tank, family lifestyle, number of people in the home and more.
Call West Coast Sanitation Today!
The fact is that many homes and septic systems were not designed to handle the load put on them from modern appliances and modern lifestyles. But, with a little care and awareness, you can manage this impact and help to avoid increased maintenance problems and the need for costly system repairs and replacement.
At West Coast Sanitation, we know that you don’t have time to deal with septic problems. If you think that your system has reached capacity, please give us a call right away. We have professionals ready to answer your questions and get your system working properly again.