Septic Effluent Disposal versus Septic Effluent Treatment
DISPOSAL vs TREATMENT - CONTENTS: Distinguishing between septic effluent disposal and septic effluent treatment . "Getting rid" of septic effluent by soil absorption does not assure sanitary treatment of septic effluent. What is a septic effluent treatment failure? Definitions of septic failure for each component
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Successful effluent treatment is one definition of a properly-working septic system:
Just because the waste from your toilet goes down the drain or as on mystified client put it "it just goes away" does not mean that your septic system is working. A septic failure many people understand is a sewage backup or the presence of sewage on the ground surface outdoors (our photo at page top). But an equally important though more hidden septic system failure may be present: the discharge of contaminated waste water into the environment.
This article explains steps for distinguishing between septic effluent disposal and septic effluent treatment among the types of septic system failure in the drain field, leach field, seepage bed, or similar
component. We list the causes of each type of septic component failure, and list the septic component failure criteria
or in other words what conditions are defined as "failure"?
What is Onsite Septic Effluent Disposal, Graywater Disposal, or Wastewater Disposal?- Disposition & Transpiration
Wastewater is disposed-of on-site. We "get rid of" the liquid. This means that the liquid portion of waste piped from a building is released into the soil, typically at a drainfield or soakaway bed or leachfield (these are synonyms). There most of the water eventually joins groundwater in the soils around or passing through the property.
A portion of effluent or wastewater is also released through evaporation, or transpiration. Moisture moves naturally upwards through soil to the more dry air above. Preserving transpiration or evaporative transpiration is one of the reasons that we don't want to pave over a drainfield nor cover it by plastic or insulation or anything that blocks moisture movement out of the soil into the air.
But getting rid of wastewater is not the same as successfully treating it so that we are not polluting our own drinking water or nearby lakes or streams. That requires successful treatment of the effluent to reduce the level of pathogens and other unwanted subsetances to an acceptable level.
What is Onsite Septic Effluent Treatment?
Septic effluent that leaves a septic tank is treated by various processes so that when it is released to the environment the wastewater is sufficiently sanitary. A properly functioning septic system should not carry pathogens, chemicals, or other contaminants to the environment.
Septic effluent is the liquid portion of sewage waste that passes out of a septic tank into a disposal system such as a drainfield or leach field.
Sewage is partially treated in the septic tank (the level of treatment varies depending on the type of septic system and septic tank). In the septic tank effluent is separated from most solids.
Solids remain in the tank and effluent passes out of the septic tank to the soil absorption system: the drainfield. In the drain field, septic effluent is further treated by soil filtration and bacterial action in the drainfield.
However there can also be treatment failures.
Effluent may not back up or appear on the surface, but if insufficiently treated effluent reaches a private well or any stream or waterway, the
environment is being contaminated -- this is an unacceptable condition.
Onsite Sewage DISPOSAL vs Sewage TREATMENT - Successful Wastewater Disposal Does Not Necessarily Mean Successful Treatment
Historically many people have just worried about wastewater disposal. That is, we don't want to see wet smelly areas of sewage water in our yard.
But we should also be concerned about wastewater treatment. As the quality of drinking water
deteriorates in many areas and as population grows in many previously thinly-populated areas, proper wastewater treatment has become the real concern for
For example, if there is not sufficient soil between the bottom of the soil absorption system trenches and the local
groundwater, the local environment is being contaminated.
Drywells and cesspools or deeply-buried drainfields may successfully dispose of wastewater or septic effluent, but because of the lack of oxygen deep in soils, the effluent may be insufficiently treated before it is released to the environment.
This distinction has been recognized in the United States by some state sanitary codes such as Massachusetts Title 5 that, through its provisions, requires that a septic system treat effluent not just dispose of it.
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Questions & answers or comments about what defines a successful septic system or onsite wastewater disposal system
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Percolation Testing Manual, CNMI Division of Environmental Quality, Gualo Rai, Saipan provides an excellent English Language manual guide for soil percolation testing. Original source: www.deq.gov.mp/artdoc/Sec6art108ID255.pdf
Soil Test Pit Preparation, fact sheet, Oregon DEQ Department of Environmental Quality, original source www.deq.state.or.us/wq/pubs/factsheets/onsite/testpitprep.pdf The Oregon DEQ onsite water quality program can be contacted at 811 South Ave, Portland OR 97204, 800-452-4011 or see http://www.oregon.gov/DEQ/
Thanks to reader Michael Roth for technical link editing 6/29/09.
Septic Tank/Soil-Absorption Systems: How to Operate & Maintain [ copy on file as /septic/Septic_Operation_USDA.pdf ] - , Equipment Tips, U.S. Department of Agriculture, 8271 1302, 7100 Engineering, 2300 Recreation, September 1982, web search 08/28/2010, original source: http://www.fs.fed.us/t-d/pubs/pdfimage/82711302.pdf.
Pennsylvania State Fact Sheets relating to domestic wastewater treatment systems include
Pennsylvania State Wastewater Treatment Fact Sheet SW-161, Septic System Failure: Diagnosis and Treatment
Pennsylvania State Wastewater Treatment Fact Sheet SW-162, The Soil Media and the Percolation Test
Pennsylvania State Wastewater Treatment Fact Sheet SW-l64, Mound Systems for Wastewater Treatment
Pennsylvania State Wastewater Treatment Fact Sheet SW-165, Septic Tank-Soil Absorption Systems
Document Sources used for this web page include but are not limited to: Agricultural Fact Sheet #SW-161 "Septic Tank Pumping," by Paul D. Robillard and
Kelli S. Martin. Penn State College of Agriculture - Cooperative Extension, edited and annotated by
Dan Friedman (Thanks: to Bob Mackey for proofreading the original source material.)
Books & Articles on Building & Environmental Inspection, Testing, Diagnosis, & Repair
Advanced Onsite Wastewater Systems Technologies, Anish R. Jantrania, Mark A. Gross. Anish Jantrania, Ph.D., P.E., M.B.A., is a Consulting Engineer, in Mechanicsville VA, 804-550-0389 (2006). Outstanding technical reference especially on alternative septic system design alternatives. Written for designers and engineers, this book is not at all easy going for homeowners but is a text I recommend for professionals--DF.
Builder's Guide to Wells and Septic Systems, Woodson, R. Dodge: $ 24.95; MCGRAW HILL B; TP;
Quoting from Amazon's description: For the homebuilder, one mistake in estimating or installing wells and septic systems can cost thousands of dollars. This comprehensive guide filled with case studies can prevent that. Master plumber R. Dodge Woodson packs this reader-friendly guide with guidance and information, including details on new techniques and materials that can economize and expedite jobs and advice on how to avoid mistakes in both estimating and construction. Chapters cover virtually every aspect of wells and septic systems, including on-site evaluations; site limitations; bidding; soil studies, septic designs, and code-related issues; drilled and dug wells, gravel and pipe, chamber-type, and gravity septic systems; pump stations; common problems with well installation; and remedies for poor septic situations. Woodson also discusses ways to increase profits by avoiding cost overruns.
Country Plumbing: Living with a Septic System, Hartigan, Gerry: $ 9.95; ALAN C HOOD & TP;
Quoting an Amazon reviewer's comment, with which we agree--DF:This book is informative as far as it goes and might be most useful for someone with an older system. But it was written in the early 1980s. A lot has changed since then. In particular, the book doesn't cover any of the newer systems that are used more and more nowadays in some parts of the country -- sand mounds, aeration systems, lagoons, etc.
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The Home Reference Book - the Encyclopedia of Homes, Carson Dunlop & Associates, Toronto, Ontario, 25th Ed., 2012, is a bound volume of more than 450 illustrated pages that assist home inspectors and home owners in the inspection and detection of problems on buildings. The text is intended as a reference guide to help building owners operate and maintain their home effectively. Field inspection worksheets are included at the back of the volume.
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