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The Impact Of Failing Septic Systems On Our Environment

Investing in infrastructure, a country can develop and grow. But there is more to it than just building streets and bridges, railway tracks or sewage systems. Infrastructure also has to be properly maintained. In the US, we are great at building out our infrastructure, but we lack the skills, money and willingness for the maintenance part.

This is especially true for residential septic systems, as they are embedded in the ground, so we can’t see them (other than a bridge) and inspections are unregulated for the most part. People tell me that their septic system hasn’t been inspected for over 10 or 20 years or that their system doesn’t need any maintenance at all – but nothing could be further from the truth!

‘But why do I have to pay for an inspection? I’ve never had a problem.’ Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. A failing septic system can appear to be fully functional for years to come before you start to notice that there actually is something wrong. And this is what makes them so dangerous for us and our environment…

Failing Septic Systems Damage Our Environment

What impact do failing septic systems have on our environment? A failing septic system can cause:

  • the build-up of sludge that reduces the tank’s capacity and prevents wastewater from getting treated properly before it enters the drain field,
  • the build-up of sludge to an extent that it starts entering the drain field itself and causes a complete system failure.

In both scenarios too many bacteria and viruses that can cause dysentery, hepatitis and typhoid fever accumulate in the soil and, due to rain and other water movement, end up in our surface and groundwater resources leading to environmental pollution and public health problems.


For the sake of completeness: Septic systems (even the ones that don’t fail) cause the transport of nitrates into our soil and ultimately into our water (because soil absorbs only small amounts of nitrate). Nitrate is toxic to the human organism in relevant quantities and can render a water source unfit for human use. Furthermore, nitrogen, which is a component of nitrate, causes algae blooming. Once the algae dies, microorganisms that feed on them reduce the amount of dissolved oxygen in the water. If oxygen saturation falls below 30%, water is referred to as hypoxic and is incompatible with maritime life.

How To Know If A Septic System Is Failing

Here are the most common indicators that can be a sign for septic system failure:

  1. Slow drainage or sewage backup in drains and toilets,
  2. unpleasant and pungent odors around your house,
  3. excessive grass growth in the drain field area, even during dry months,
  4. excessive growth of aquatic weeds or algae in lakes or ponds adjacent to your home.


How To Prevent System Failure

Whoever has not yet understood, a failing septic system is really bad news. That’s why it is crucial to take care of it the right way, because your system doesn’t have to fail. All you need to do is maintain and use it correctly. After all, prevention is still better than repair, isn’t it? So what do you have to do?

First of all, you have to understand how the specific septic system in your home works. You have to know how big your tank is and its current filling level of sludge. You have to know approximately how much sewage your family produces and you have to find out, when your tank was pumped out last. All that information is needed in order for you to know, when it’s time to empty your septic tank next.

It’s important that your septic system is emptied on a routinely basis – I can’t stress that enough. How often? That varies from system to system and depends on tank size, intense of use, system age, etc. As a rule of thumb, have your system inspected at least every 4 years and pumped out, if needed.

Secondly, make sure that every member of your family has understood what they are and aren’t allowed to flush down the drain. Because, as many of you apparently don’t know, a septic system is NOT a magic machine that swallows everything you throw into its throat and make it vanish.

For example, the improper use of a septic system has been shown to contribute to groundwater contamination by toxic chemicals (heavy metals, toxic household products) and organic chemicals (septic tank cleaning products).

meerkat paying attentionBe On The Lookout

Keep in mind that the first one who suffers from a failing septic system is you and your family. So pay attention to how you use it and ensure that your system is well maintained and inspected at least once in a 4-year period.

If you notice 1 of the indicators that occur, when a septic system is failing, act immediately and seek professional support.

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