Environmental Impacts of Septic Tanks and Testing for Hazards

Oct 3, 2022

Why are Septic Systems Important?

Septic systems is to take wastewater from your home and purify it so it can safely reenter the ground water system without chemicals or treatments.

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How do Septic Systems Work?

Septic systems start with a main sewer line coming out from your home. All waste water originating from inside of the home runs down the main sewer line and enters into the septic tank. When in the septic tank, the waste water separates into various sections.

  • The top layer is the scum layer which includes substances like oils, toilet paper and personal care product byproducts.
  • The middle layer is the effluent layer which primarily consists of liquid sewage and some biohazard material. The liquid in the effluent layer will eventually travel through various distribution drainage pipes to begin the filtration process through the soil.
  • The bottom layer of the septic tank is the sludge layer which consists of heavier wastes and substances. Naturally present bacteria and microbes assist in the decomposition of the sludge at the bottom of the tank. Each layer of the septic tank is separated due to density differences of each substance present.

All the excess water present in the septic tanks in the effluent layer is then transferred into a second tank where the decomposition process of microbes continues. Most septic systems have a distribution box past the second tank which evenly distributes waste water throughout the drain field. The drain field consists of drain line pipes which allow water to transport out of the system to begin the filtering process through the soil.

How Septic Systems Fail and the Environmental Impact

Unfortunately, septic tank systems can fail and in some cases, can create a negative impact on the environment such as contaminating potable drinking water systems.

  • The septic tank may be cracked which allows the tank to leak contaminated sewage water. The pipes of the system can become clogged which may result in outdoor overflows
  • Overflows allow biohazard waste to be distributed throughout your property and the surrounding outdoor environment
  • The microbiological activity inside of the tank may become compromised over time. When microbe populations decrease, decomposition also decreases and allows sludge to build up inside of the tank causing system failures
  • A buildup of anaerobic bacteria from the tank entering the drain field can create a buildup on the drain pipe lines and create overflows

How to Prevent Septic Tank Failures

Avoid flushing products like feminine products, baby wipes, paper towels, dental floss, etc. because the microbes within the septic tank have a harder time decomposing these materials and they will fill your tank more quickly resulting in more frequent pumping and cleaning.

It is also important to never pour oil, cat litter, and/or garbage down your drain or toilets if your home uses a septic tank because this could also clog the pipes of the system.

Allowing excessive amounts of cleaning products to go down the drains in your home may result in a substantial reduction in microbe populations. Lower microbe counts will decrease the sludge decomposition and may lead to contaminated water overflows and backflows of the system.

Overtime, the septic tank is going to fill up with sludge and needs to be pumped and cleaned. It is recommended to get your tank pumped and cleaned approximately every three to five years. If it is done too frequently, it will not allow enough time for microbe populations to multiply which will affect the decomposition rate of the sludge in the tank. 

What to do if you suspect failure or concern with water contamination?

If you suspect backflow issues, sewage spills or are looking for a test of your potable water supply contact Indoor Science to learn more. We serve clients across the United States out of our 62 company owned locations. We are experienced in water quality testing, sewage testing and if needed, can dispatch a team for remediation after septic system failures.