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PHOTO of a northern Minnesota field where we have ample room to keep septic components well away from the trees - but notice those tire tracks?Q&A on SewageContaminants in Fruits and Vegetables Grown Near Septics

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Frequently-asked questions & answers about sewage pathogens appearing in fruits and vegetables grown near septic disposal fields:

Here we answer FAQs about the risk of sewage or septic effluent contamination of fruits, vegetables, or other edibles grown near septic drainfields or aerobic septic systems.

This article series discusses the health hazards of consuming fruits and vegetables that may contain contaminants produced if they are grown over septic drainfields or too close to other sources of effluent from septic systems or on-site waste disposal systems



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FAQs on Sewage Contaminants in Fruits and Vegetables Grown Near Septic Drainfields?

PHOTO of sewage contamination leaking to a yard surface from a broken sewer pipeRecently-posted questions & answers about risk of garden or fruit contamination from septic systems

On 2017-03-12 18:26:52.145226 by (mod) - safe distances from aerobic system for hazelnut trees & wildflowers

Thank you for the nice comment, Andrea. In an era of fake news and loss of appreciation of the importance of objective facts, we can but increase our commitment to doing our best to provide accurate, un-biased information.

About planting wildflowers over a septic area out of the spray area, I think that's a fine idea. From my reading, the greatest concern with septic effluent contamination would be either direct spray onto edible crops or contaminated soil-splash-up onto them. But do consider prevalent wind direction and force - that may lead you to use a somewhat greater safety distance from the drainfield.

GARDENS NEAR SEPTICS at http://inspectapedia.com/septic/Plant_Garden_Over_Septic_Fields.php adds some detail about such plantings right over or close to septics (not your case)

About planting trees near the septic field, with enough distance that you're not splashing contaminated soil nor wind-drifting septic effluent onto the trees, the remaining question will just be root damage to the fields - unlikely if you're far enough away. "Safe" distances (about root damage) ranges from 50 to 100 ft. depending on tree species.

There are many on-line sources of advice on growing hazelnut trees. You need at least two trees, and typical planting spaces gives each tree 20x20 ft. So if you're 50 feet from a fence that marks the perimeter of your effluent absorption area you should be OK. It'd be smart to double check about hazelnut root growth patterns with an arborist.

See Baron, Lloyd C., Craig Riggert, Robert L. Stebbins, and Susan M. Bell. "Growing hazelnuts in Oregon." (1985).

see TREES or SHRUBS OVER THE SEPTIC FIELD or TANK at http://inspectapedia.com/septic/Plant_Trees_Over_Septic_Fields.php for some distance guidelines. You'll see that safe distances to avoid root damage depend on the tree or other plant species.
There you will also find a link to a PDF file describing procedures for growing Hazelnut trees, prepared by Henry and Kaiser for the USDA.

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On 2017-03-12 14:03:59.611051 by Andrea

Hi there, I really appreciate this forum- it's hard to find educated answers you haven't paid for out the nose for that try to cover so many variables with such effort and honesty as I've read on here. Before I ask my question I just wanted to say your restraint from giving in to trolls so as to answer their real questions is awesome.

So with that said here's my question, I'm hoping for a few good points to pursue because I've no idea where to start with an answer. I have an aerobic septic system with two sprinklers that spray gray water. The plan is to fence of the area of farthest spray reach and seed wildflowers for pollinators (I live in Texoma, pasture land).

I'd like to plant hazelnut trees for consumption about 50ft away from fence. I'm worried about food safety.

Im considering hazelnut because I'd need to bake it before eating ( to remove skin) and I'm hoping that approach will give me a safe end product for flour and animal feed (geese and chickens as a treat and winter staple. Don't mind cooking/skinning as it makes crushing easier.)

What are your thoughts? I'm thinking worst case scenario hazelnut crop experiences splash up but not soaking.

Very possible run off during rain from fenced area to tree roots. Small property of 2 acres, 2 adults 4 children to give you an idea of septic loads, co-op well water, no large livestock.

On 2016-08-30 14:35:13.265128 by (mod)

The concern would be more likely whether or not sewage effluent splashes up onto the grapes during rainfall - if the tank is sealed and the drainfield is not in failure you may be ok.

On 2016-08-30 03:36:10.956966 by can u eat grapes planted near septic tank

i have concord grapes growing close to septic tank can i make jelly and be safe to eat

On 2015-12-28 05:49:19.664019 by Anonymous

Test the produce for sewage bacteris, keeping in mind that changing weather or change in septic field conditions still can create a contamination risk.

On 2015-12-27 19:11:00.626212 by Karen

Testing I can do, but I'm at a loss as to what tests. Would the local extension office be the best place to go? Would they know of regulations regarding selling to the public?

It seemed most people were talking about being very close to the system whereas I think I'd be at least 100 feet away (I'll need to find out exactly where the system ends).

I'm inclined to think that would be sufficient but don't want to go through the effort & expense to plant trees if I can't sell the fruit. Thank you for your time and input; I'm so glad I found this site!

On 2015-12-26 22:33:55.646785 by (mod)

"Near" is not a fixed number so I agree the discussion, even from experts, can be confusing; whether or not edibles will be contaminated depends on not just distance but soil properties, water flow rates through soils, rain splash-up, dust transport, etc.

I think some common sense and perhaps some testing can answer the question.

On 2015-12-26 05:40:28.341380 by Karen

After reading all of the posts above the first question that comes to mind is "What is NEAR?" I know of a piece of land, I'd guess about 450' x 450', with a mound at one end of it. If fruit trees were planted in the center of that square would they be "near" it? If planted at the other end of it would they be "near" it?

Are there government entities (or others) who regulate how far away you must plant in order to be "safe" to sell your harvest to the public?

Question: we have constructed a vegetable garden or plantd fruit trees over the drainfield but now we're worried

(Sept 10, 2011) Anonymous said: hey what about if waste water went in a lemon tree ?can we eat the lemons or is it dangerous

(Mar 9, 2012) Anonymous said: Large new drain field. Family 4. Orange tree 15 feet from tree to in ground drain field with lift station. Only brown water from lift station. Safe or not safe.

(Apr 28, 2012) RICK said: LEMON TREE OR NUT TREE 15' AWAY FROM LEECH FIELD-IS IT SAFE TO EAT????

(July 31, 2012) tanya said: Hi there we have a community growing area,we have small ground level plots that we have been growing our veg in, sadly last night we were flooded by the local brook/dike, leaving a dark brown mud and foul smell, would it be safe to eat these vegtables as many were potatoes or should we destroy and start again?

Would these areas need to be have fress top soil incase of sewage damage or could we clean it, any advice would be great

(Jan 25, 2013) Jennifer said: We recently rebuilt a house in a large, old, established residental hilly area, at the very bottom. There was a water drainage problem, which has been corrected as best we can. Still very high underwater flow. Is it safe to plant veggies/herbs in this area?

4/24/2014 Summer Costello said:

We have prepared a large site for growing vegetables in a nice flat spot of our yard following guidelines for "Eden" gardening. We started with a layer of newspaper right on top of the grass, followed by a layer of decomposed cow manure, added in some mushroom mulch, and finally three inches of wood chips. We began this process last fall in excited preparation for planting this spring.

Recently, however, a visiting plumber noted that our garden plot is situated directly over our drainfield and could produce vegetables that are unsafe to eat. We were so disappointed and began researching to confirm or disprove his concerns. I read most of the pertinent info on your website, but still have some questions.

1) Since our plot has been prepared over the grass and vegetables will not be planted directly into the soil, will this reduce the possibility of contaminants in the veggies?

2) Should't the wood chip layer adequately protect veggies from contaminant splash up?

3) Is our prepared plot considered a raised bed?

I read that this is not good for the drainfield and am wondering what affects it could have on the functioning of the system? Also, is there anything we could do, since the plot is already prepared, to help combat any negative affects? PLEASE HELP! We worked so hard on this and will be soon ready to plant but don't want to endanger our family with contaminated foods!

Reply: variation in site conditions may cause risk of actual sewage contamination of vegetables and possibly higher-up fruit crops to risk to vary accordingly

Tanya,

Good question but not one we can hazard by text exchange and no real data; For example, some creeks will seasonally contain quit high levels of local septic field runoff and more seriously, in communities where there are many older, crowded, or under-designed, or under-maintained septic systems, a high level of sewage effluent may regularly be discharged to the surface or to nearby creeks and streams. So unforutnately there's no simple Yes or No answer that in my opinion would be reliable.

I think this is a good question to take to your health department.

Summer,

Thanks for the interesting question Summer. I am torn between wanting to be helpful and wanting to be careful not to bet your health on a situation that I cannot really know much about by just exchangin text messages.

I agree that you understand the different sanitation concerns or contamination pathways: bacteria entering a plant through the soil vs. contaminant splash-up. Generally one would imagine that above-ground crops have their greater risk from sewage splash-up.

But interestingly even among fruit trees planted over questionable soils, the rate of infection appears to vary by species (though I suspec there may have been other factors at work). See Sipahioglu (1999) in the citations above.

More examples of variation in site conditions that may cause sewage contamination risk to vary as well

Question: does greywater contaminate fruits and vegetables planted over the septic area ?

AUTHOR:B. Sturgis (no email)
COMMENT:Lemon tree planted over greywater, washing machine only, septic area. Will lemons be safe to eat?

Reader Question: How can I get my vegetable and fruit produce professionally tested to ascertain contamination from sewage pathogens?

(Apr 28, 2014) Mark said:
How can I get my vegetable and fruit produce professionally tested to ascertain contamination from sewage pathogens?

Reply:

Mark a microbiology test lab, the same folks who do water testing, sewage contamination testing, can test other materials for pathogens. Be sure to discuss with local labs in your area just what is their normal scope of work and expertise. Some labs drastically limit their practice.

(Apr 29, 2014) Mark said:
Thanks so much -- that was very helpful.

Reply:

Glad to assist, Mark and your question is helpful to me as well.

If you want to better understand the concerns around pathogens found in fruits & vegetables I found the following article quite pertinent.

My point is that when we ask a lab to test for pathogenic contamination of fruits and vegetables we need to

1. ignore the folks who argue that such foodstuffs are not at risk and so testing is always unnecessary

2. ask the lab what they will test-for, as we might need to look for different pathogens on different foods. I worry that some prior research, as I've found in the area of mold contamination, seriously misreports the presence or absence of hazards because the investigator didn't look thoroughly or used an unreliable test method.

Like bird watching, how do you spot a Quetzal? Well you have to look where they live (in certain areas of Costa Rica) and it helps to know what they eat (little avocados) and when they will be there eating (early morning).

Another bird watcher might say there are no Quetzals there, even looking in the same spot, but at the wrong time of day.

...


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