Septic Systems

Pump It! It’s SepticSmart Time

Wastewater is one of those things we take for granted, it’s an out of sight out of mind topic. However, wastewater is a leading environmental as well as public safety concern. This week is the EPA’s  SepticSmart Week and to promote that, here are a few facts about septic systems and how to ensure you are doing everything to keep the environment clean and your family safe.

A septic system is an underground treatment structure used to store everything that goes down the drain in the bathroom, kitchen, and laundry room. Homes in suburban and rural areas rely on a septic system when they are not served by a centralized sewer system. A septic tank is placed underground in the yard. Household sewage enters creating three layers: sludge, wastewater, and scum. Sludge is the solid waste that sinks to the bottom, wastewater temporarily sits in the middle, and scum, oil and grease float to the top. The wastewater is in the tank long enough to separate both forms of waste before entering the drain field. The drain field, or leach field, is a network of perforated pipes that wastewater is discharged into where a natural process of removing the bacteria and viruses begins. Living organisms digest the waste in the tank keeping down the amount of waste in the tank at any given time.

The importance behind a healthy septic system includes keeping you, your family, and your neighbors safe. If a septic system is insufficiently treated, diseases such as hepatitis and gastrointestinal illness can spread. In addition, it poses a greater risk for contaminating drinking water. Having a healthy septic system also means helping to create a healthy environment for local rivers, lakes, and streams. As pollutants from untreated septic systems enter these bodies of water, native plants and fish are likely to be killed off upsetting the balance of the local ecosystem. An untreated septic system can create financial and legal troubles for those who choose to ignore it. To avoid problems, a septic system should get pumped every three to five years, depending on the size of the system and the size of the family. The cost of this regular maintenance is roughly $250 to $500 – much cheaper than having to replace or repair a broken system that can cost anywhere from $3,000 to $5,000. Lastly, if left untreated, the owner can face legal issues as well as a decreased property value.

To ensure you are up-to-date on your septic system, keep a record of maintenance performed on the septic system. Knowing the levels of the sludge and scum in the tank allows you to know when is time to get the septic tank pumped. Professional inspectors should be contacted every three to five years and will let you know the levels of these layers. Typically if the bottom scum layer is within six inches of the bottom of the outlet, or if the top sludge layer is within 12 inches of the outlet, the tank should be pumped relatively soon. One of the best ways to care for your septic tank is to minimize the amount of water wasted. With the typical individual in a single-family home using about 70 gallons of indoor water per day, finding ways to reduce and reuse helps improve the septic system. Investing in high-efficiency toilets, washing machines, and showerheads can dramatically reduce how much water gets wasted. Washing laundry in full loads as well as spreading out laundry to multiple days can help reduce the chance of the septic tank being flooded with large amounts of water all at once. And remember to only flush human waste and toilet paper; flushable wipes and feminine hygiene products should never be flushed as they are hazardous to your toilets’ draining system! Lastly, remember that we as humans have a symbiotic relationship with the living organisms that digest our waste. Pouring toxins, such as chemical drain openers, can kill these organisms and in return, ruin your septic system.

For more information on septic systems and their care, go to the EPA’s website.
For more water saving tips go to WaterSmartSouthShore.org.

About WaterSmart – The NSRWA, in partnership with 10 towns on the South Shore: Aquarion (Hingham and Hull), Duxbury, Hanover, Kingston, Marshfield, Norwell, Pembroke, Scituate, Weymouth, provides education to school children and adults on water conservation in your home, business and town. For more information about WaterSmart, contact the program manager, Lori Wolfe, at lori@nsrwa.org or 781-659-8168.