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Environmental Impact Of Septic Systems

Although septic systems are necessary for many homes not connected to the centralized sewer system, they can cause significant environmental impacts. These include groundwater contamination, surface water pollution, and soil harm as well as methane emissions.

A failing septic system discharges untreated wastewater that contains pathogens and nutrients directly into the groundwater or surface waters. This contaminates drinking water wells and threatens public health. Make sure to call Septic Tank Pump Out Perth today.

septic tank

Water Pollution

The wastewater that exits your home goes down a main sewer line and enters a septic tank. Once inside the tank, the waste separates into different layers – solid waste on the bottom, liquid in the middle, and a scum layer on top. The septic tank holds the solid waste for some time to allow aeration and other biological processes to break it down. Once the solid waste is broken down, the liquid enters the drain field. The drain field consists of a network of perforated pipes buried in gravel and covered with un-compacted soil. Once the wastewater reaches the drain field, it seeps into the gravel and lower soil layers where helpful bacteria continue to break down the organic matter and contaminants.

Wastewater contains nutrients and pathogens that can contaminate surface water bodies like lakes, rivers, and coastal waters. Nutrient pollution can cause eutrophication which results in excessive growth of plants, algae, and other aquatic vegetation. Pathogens in wastewater can cause diarrheal diseases such as typhoid and hepatitis A.

Water pollution can also occur when septic systems are located too close to drinking water wells. In this case, the contaminated soil can leak into the groundwater supply and contaminate drinking water. Keeping your septic system properly maintained can help avoid this problem.

In addition, septic tanks need to be pumped out regularly (dislodged) to remove the accumulated sludge and scum layer. Choosing an appropriately sized tank ensures that the sewage has sufficient residence time before it reaches the drain field to be adequately treated. An undersized tank reduces this residence time and discharges insufficiently treated effluent into the drain field causing soil contamination.

As climate changes, it’s important to review your septic system. Many systems that were permitted 40 or 50 years ago would not meet current requirements. If your home is near a beach or other body of water, it may be worthwhile to consider upgrading to an advanced septic system that can reduce the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus in wastewater.

Most states or local health departments require a minimum distance between septic systems and surface water bodies. If you’re unsure about the setback required in your area, consult with your local health department.

Groundwater Contamination

All of the wastewater originating inside your home runs down the sewer line to your septic system, where it separates into three sections: a sludge layer, a scum layer, and a liquid effluent. The septic bacteria in the tank degrade these organic waste materials, which then enter the soil for further treatment by microbes. Once the liquid wastewater leaves the septic tank, it either leaches directly into the ground or goes to a drain field where the soil absorbs the remaining contaminants. If something clogs the septic tank or a pipe breaks, the wastewater can spill out into the environment, contaminating groundwater and surface water with disease-causing pathogens and other pollutants.

The amount of pollution that occurs depends on the type of septic system, the location, and how well it’s maintained. If the septic system is located close to a private water well, any contamination may get into the drinking supply. Many people in rural areas rely on wells for their water. Wells are often near septic systems, especially in the south and west.

Faulty and poorly maintained septic systems pollute groundwater, surface waters, and, in some cases, the drinking water supplies of those who live nearby. The septic waste introduces pathogens such as bacteria, viruses, and protozoa that cause vomiting and diarrhea, along with toxic chemicals, such as phenols and pharmaceutical compounds. It also adds nitrogen to the ecosystem, which increases algal growth and reduces dissolved oxygen levels.

A study of septic tanks found that 10 percent of residential wells exceed the federal drinking water standard for nitrates. Nitrogen from septic systems and fertilizers also contaminates coastal waters, causing harmful algal blooms that interfere with fishing and swimming.

While the exact number of failing septic systems is difficult to determine, experts agree that millions in the country are at risk of having their health and lives endangered by these outdated and inadequate disposal methods. Adding to the problem are climate change-related factors, such as intense storms that dump inches of rain in a few hours and can overwhelm septic systems for days. Also, warmer winter temperatures can cause the ground to freeze earlier, compromising septic drain fields.

Air Pollution

When properly designed and sited, septic systems are less environmentally damaging than centralized sewer systems. However, septic systems can become problematic if they are overloaded or improperly maintained. A failing or overloaded septic system releases unsafe levels of bacteria to groundwater and surface water, contaminating drinking water supplies and causing diseases such as dysentery and hepatitis. Additionally, septic systems that are not sited in the proper area or poorly maintained can release excessive amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus into nearby lakes, rivers, and other bodies of water, leading to toxic algal blooms that can choke out fish and shellfish populations and reduce the amount of dissolved oxygen in the water, damaging ecosystems.

The wastewater treatment process in a septic tank depends on hydrological, microbial, and chemical processes to eliminate bacteria, viruses, nutrients, and other organic material. However, soil type and moisture can interfere with these processes. Soils that do not drain well, or those with a high clay or silt content, tend to clog septic tanks and leach fields more easily. A septic tank needs to be large enough to allow sufficient residence time for the solid waste material to settle and decompose. The tank must also be pumped regularly, typically every two to five years, to remove the accumulated sludge and scum layers.

Septic systems that are not emptied in time or are overloaded can overflow into the drain field and cause soil saturation, reducing effluent residence time and increasing the risk of contamination. In addition, septic systems that are not properly sited and sited, or those in densely built areas, can lead to the overproduction of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, which is released into the air during digestion by soil microbes.

In rural areas, septic systems are often the only alternative to costly public wastewater treatment facilities. When septic systems are properly installed and maintained, they help replenish groundwater supplies and improve the quality of nearby water bodies. However, when septic systems are abused or fail, contaminated wastewater can seep into the environment, contaminating groundwater, surface water, and drinking water supplies. In addition, septic systems can pollute nearby waterbodies with disease-causing pathogens, nitrates, and phosphorus, resulting in fishing restrictions and loss of tourism revenue.


A septic system is often the only means of waste disposal for homes and businesses that do not connect to centralized sewer systems. However, as this wastewater breaks down and soaks into the soil, it introduces disease-causing pathogens and pollutants into water supplies. Infections caused by these bacteria can be severe and even life-threatening.

A failing septic system causes untreated sewage to contaminate groundwater, surface water, and marine waters. It also produces odors and can cause health problems for people living nearby.

Pathogens and contaminants that are discharged into the environment by a septic tank include fecal bacteria, phosphorus, nitrogen, organic matter, and suspended solids. These can cause serious damage to surface water bodies and local drinking water wells. In addition, these pollutants can make water unsafe for swimming, boating, and shellfish harvesting.

Septic tanks also produce a toxic combination of gases. Sewer gas consists of a mixture of methane, hydrogen sulfide, ammonia, carbon dioxide, and traces of sulfur dioxide. It smells like rotten eggs and is extremely poisonous in high concentrations. It can lead to breathing problems, irritated eyes and nose, sore throat, cough, and even death.

Sewage water may also contain parasitic worms and protozoans. These can multiply inside the body and cause diarrhea, which is particularly dangerous for children and elderly adults. Parasites found in sewage water include tapeworms and roundworms that can cause intestinal infections.

If your septic tank is not properly maintained, it can release fecal bacteria, phosphorus, and nitrogen into the soil. This can result in groundwater pollution, soil contamination, and odor. In addition, septic tank failure can lead to sewage backing up into buildings and can create a health hazard for the household. This is why it is important to have your septic tank regularly inspected, pumped, and maintained. In addition, you should direct surface water flow away from your septic system. This will help prevent water contamination and protect your family’s health.