News and ResourcesAre You SepticSmart? - September 25, 2016
Are you aware of the responsibility you have when you own a home with a septic system? Did you know that it is your job to periodically pump out your septic tank and check your system? Homeowners that do not properly care for and maintain their septic systems could have to spend thousands of dollars to have them repaired or even replaced. Knowing how to be “SepticSmart” will help you save money and teach you how having a properly functioning septic system can save the environment and yourself from potential harm.
SepticSmart Week, September 22-26, was created by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to help raise awareness about the importance of proper care and maintenance of septic systems. What most people do not know is that if you neglect to take care of your septic system, you risk causing damage to the environment as well as public health.
The first step in being “SepticSmart” is to know what a septic system is and if you have one on your property. A septic system is an efficient, self-contained, underground wastewater treatment system that treats and disposes of household wastewater onsite. Usually homes that use well water or have a waterline coming into your home that does not have a meter is the indication that you have a septic system on your property. Another obvious sign is when your neighbors have systems too.
If you do have a septic system on your property, then the next step is being able to properly maintain your system depending on three major factors:
1. The number of people living in the house;
2. The amount of wastewater being generated; and,
3. The volume of solids in the water, which is normally higher when your house uses a garbage disposal.
Being able to take care of your system is very important, but make sure every three years you have a professional contractor come and inspect the system. Some simple mistakes could result in the failure of your system. Your household should avoid pouring grease or fatty liquids down the drain, putting things in the toilet or drain that do not belong there such as; diapers or coffee grounds, using a large amount of water at one time when doing dishes or laundry loads, or having people parking or driving over the field. Any one of these common mistakes could result in damage or even destruction of your system.
You may be wondering what type of damage to public health is caused when you neglect to care of your system’s needs. Septic system failure can lead to the spread of diseases and pollutants through the water, which are normally filtered out when the system is properly functioning. When pollutants and diseases spread through the water and the system cannot effectively filter out these contaminates, drinking water and human health could become threatened, causing illness or infections. If nearby surface waters become infected, then humans or animals that swim in the water are at risk of eye or ear infections, acute gastrointestinal illness, or even diseases like hepatitis.
There are many common types of septic tank systems including; Gravity, Pressure Distribution, Sand Filter, Peat Moss System, and Mound Systems. These systems are used when the area is not suitable for typical systems. If you have one of the mentioned systems, you might need special care or maintenance different from the care needed for a typical septic system.
• Gravity: The drainage field is below the level of the septic tank and the bottom of the trenches must be 1-1.2m above the water table. The soil above the water table treats the wastewater before it returns to the environment. Usually the tank can be made out of plastic or concrete.
• Pressure Distribution: With the use of a pump, wastewater is distributed evenly throughout the field. The pump tank holds the water to a certain point before releasing it into the drainage field. This system is used when there is not enough soil depth to use a Gravity system.
• Sand Filter: This filter is the most common system used because it works well in very shallow soil. Using sand between the pump tank and drainage field, wastewater is treated by the sand before entering the field. The sand makes up for the lack of soil that would normally treat the waste.
• Peat Moss System: Using peat moss between the pump tank and drainage field, this system treats the wastewater before it enters the field. Usually these systems are used when the water table is high or the soil is very shallow.
• Mound System: This septic system is used when the soil isn’t deep enough for a traditional system. Using sand-filled mounds that are raised over the natural soil above the drainage field, the wastewater is treated as it travels through the sand into the natural soil.
Owning a septic system can be beneficial as long as you care for and maintain yours. When you stop caring about your system you are putting your household or business place at risk. Be “SepticSmart” and mind the signs, if you think there is something wrong with your septic system call a septic professional and schedule for someone to come out and inspect your system.
If you have questions or want to know more about your septic system you can visit www.epa.gov for more information.
Swanton is an intern with Maryland Coastal Bays Program and senior at Stephen Decatur High School.
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