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COAST-A-SYST: MANAGING YOUR SEPTIC SYSTEM

Credits

Reprinted with permission of Clemson University from South Carolina Coast-A-Syst, a project funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency through the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control.

Most people don’t give much thought to the wastewater created in their homes from kitchen, bathroom and laundry area drains. Wastewater treatment is usually out-of-sight and out-of-mind until problems occur. However, many people don’t realize that a septic system failure is more than a nuisance:


Septic System failure is a health hazard and a significant danger to the coastal environment.


Good wastewater treatment depends on proper siting, design and operation of the entire septic system.

What is a conventional septic system and how does it work?

Most residential septic systems consist of a 1,500-gallon-capacity watertight septic tank buried in the ground and a drainfield that can fit within the front or back yard of the homesite.

Household wastewater flows into the septic tank where the solids are retained. The liquid flows out of the tank to the drainfield where it leaches through the soil and is purified before reaching the groundwater.


Soils vary in their ability to absorb and treat wastewater. Well-drained soils are generally best, however, excessively drained soils such as coarse gravel, or sands, may allow wastewater to flow through too quickly for effective treatment.  In fine clays, or compacted soils, water may move too slowly. High seasonal water tables, which occur in many coastal soils, can affect both absorption and treatment.Septic systems don’t work well when soils are poorly drained, groundwater levels are high, surface runoff saturates the drainfield or excessive amounts of water are used in your household.


Our beaches and ponds are a fragile environments due to their location, the type of soils present and the typically limited land area available for septic systems. Although the placement of all septic systems must follow state regulations, it is recommended that they be placed as far away as possible from the ocean and other environmentally sensitive coastal waters.

Caring for your septic system MADEP Link

                       Why should you be concerned

Keeping your system working properly is a wise investment for environmental, human health and economic reasons. In addition, to degrading natural resources, a failed system can cost thousands of dollars to replace.

Knowing the basics about your household system and taking simple precautions to safeguard   

it can prevent the health risks posed by inadequate wastewater treatment.

When municipal sewer systems or household septic systems fail, untreated sewage can end up both on land and in water. This untreated wastewater may contain dangerous bacteria or viruses that can threaten human life and pollute shellfish grounds and other environmentally sensitive coastal areas.

Wastewater treatment systems are designed to remove or break down these contaminants before they enter groundwater, a source of drinking water, or nearby lakes, streams, estuaries or wetlands.

INSIDE THE SEPTIC TANK: 

  •  Lighter solids in the wastewater, such as grease, hair and soap, float to the top of the tank and form a scum layer.
  • Heavier solids settle at the bottom and form a layer of sludge.
  • Bacteria in the tank begin to break down some of the sludge into simple nutrients, gas and water.

THE REMAINING SOLIDS ARE STORED IN THE TANK UNTIL THEY ARE PUMPED OUT.

THE STATE OF MASSACHUSETTS RECOMEENDS PUMPING YOUR TANK EVERY THREE YEARS.