Walking around a small village in Rutland recently I noticed the fragrance of septic tanks in the air. In rural areas it is common for properties not to be connected to the mains drainage system. These properties have to rely on a private drainage system such as a cesspool or septic tank. These types of drainage systems are very effective, provided they are managed correctly.
An average household will produce some 124,000 litres of waste each year. This is equivalent to emptying an 18,000 litre cesspool approximately seven times a year. If properly managed, most septic tanks or small sewage treatment plants do not cause problems – but if they are poorly designed, installed or managed, the discharge from them can damage the environment. Domestic wastewater can contain substances that are potentially harmful to human health and the environment.
A septic tank is a complete mini sewage system in which effluent is treated naturally. The primary purpose of the tank is to separate solids from liquids, as wastewater flows through it, and to help to break down contaminants.
A cesspool is a sealed underground tank with an inlet pipe but no outlet. It is connected to a property by a series of drainage pipes. The cesspool stores sewage and other wastewater until the time of disposal. Cesspools must be watertight to prevent the leakage of foul water or the ingress of groundwater.
Under the provisions of the Public Health Act 1936, it is an offence to allow a cesspool to overflow or leak. If this happens the owner is liable to prosecution by the local authority. In addition, if pollution of a watercourse takes place, the Environment Agency may take legal action under the Water Resources Act 1991. The penalty for allowing a polluting discharge is up to £20,000 and/or three months imprisonment.
A smell of sewage in the area, slowly draining sinks, toilets or baths, liquid overflowing from the inspection cover, surface flooding ‘downstream’ of the tank or nettles and vigorous plant growth ‘downstream’ can all be indicators of problems with your septic tank.
To avoid problems:
Put all wastewaters from your home into the system – any of these can contain environmental pollutants. All roof and surface water should discharge directly into a ditch or watercourse.
Use bleaches and disinfectants sparingly because these could kill the useful bacteria that help to digest the waste in your septic tank. Some brands of domestic cleaner are ‘septic tank friendly’ and are preferred.
Try to avoid excessive discharges from washing machines by using the ‘halfload’ setting. If possible use showers instead of baths.
Inspect the system at least once a month.
De-sludge the tank at least once a year. Ensure that air vents are not blocked and that all covers are secured and easily accessible.
- Act immediately if you find a blockage or any sign of pollution.
Use your toilet or kitchen sink as a bin. Put disposable nappies, sanitary items, plastic or other large solids which may cause blockages into the bin.
Empty chemical toilets into the drains of the septic tank.
Pour paints, solvents, oils, fats or heavy greases into the drains of the septic tank. These should be kept in their original containers and disposed of properly.
Allow roof or surface water into the septic tank. Excessive discharges into the tank will flush solids through before adequate digestion has taken place.
At Drain Doctor Plumbing and Drainage we understand septic tank systems and how they work. We are experts in both the maintenance and installation of the systems. We can upgrade existing systems to ensure they do not pollute ground water aquifers or water courses.
We can carry out ground forosity tests and lay down new soak-away or nitrification fields, with all work carried out in accordance with building regulations. We can also ‘audit’ existing septic tank systems and ensure the correct bacterial balance within the system. This can be done by ensuring all materials used in the house are bio-degradable. We also sell products to redress bacterial imbalance in septic tank systems.
Call us on 0800 3357 999 for a free septic tank consultation.