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57 Ways To Protect Your Home Environment (and Yourself)
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39. Prevent Contamination From Septic Systems

septic system operation

If you don’t maintain your septic system on a regular basis, the system could malfunction, possibly causing problems: contamination of groundwater and surface water; spread of sewage-borne diseases such as cholera, typhoid fever, and more commonly, gastroenteritis; or costly damage to your home and septic system.

The key factors in keeping a septic system operating properly are proper soil conditions, proper sizing of the system, and homeowner maintenance. Therefore, it’s important to know the basic components of the system and how to keep them functioning properly.

septic tank

The septic tank is usually a concrete container that receives wastewater from your bathroom, kitchen, and laundry room. It allows heavy particles, or sludge, to settle and light materials, or scum, to float. In the tank, bacteria break down some waste products, allowing liquids to move into the absorption system.
absorption field

The absorption system, or drainfield, consists of a distribution box, perforated distribution lines, and a soil area that has the capacity to accept wastewater. Wastewater from the septic tank moves through the drainfield, where harmful microorganisms, organic materials, and nutrients are removed.
septic system maintenance

To help your septic system operate correctly, know the location of all of the parts of your system, and don’t run heavy vehicles over them.
	In this photo, homeowners use a tile probe to locate their septic tank.

In this photo, homeowners use a tile probe to locate their septic tank.
septic system maintenance

Avoid planting trees or shrubs near drain tiles. Their roots can clog drain lines. Also, divert surface runoff around the system, if possible. And be careful of what you dispose of in the toilet or in your drains. Household chemicals can destroy the bacteria that break down organic material in your septic tank; garbage disposals can add unnecessary solids and grease to your system; and non-biodegradable material can clog the absorption field.
clogged drainfield

When a drainfield becomes clogged, it can no longer handle septic tank effluent.
septic system maintenance

Conserve water whenever possible. To avoid overloading your system on any particular day, try to distribute throughout the week your laundry and other chores that require heavy water use. Install a lint trap on the washing machine because lint can clog the septic system.
septic system maintenance

Finally, monitor your septic tank annually, and have a reputable contractor pump it out every two to three years.
pumping out tank

In some cases, the tank may need to be pumped out even more frequently.
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