Impact of Nutrients from Septic Systems to Surface Water

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Impact of Nutrients from Septic Systems to Surface Water

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If your septic tank system is not designed, installed, maintained, and used properly, it may negatively affect nearby drinking water sources and lead to water-borne diseases. 

Let’s see how!

How Septic System Pollution Affects Surface Water?

Septic systems can impact the quality of local drinking water wells and surface water bodies. How well the septic systems are maintained and used will determine the extent of septic system contamination. A septic tank near a water source can contaminate the water supply, leading to serious health problems.

Diseases such as cholera, gastrointestinal disease, hepatitis A, and hepatitis B can be caused by bacteria, viruses, or protozoa in wastewater. If wastewater is not treated properly, it can contain a lot of nitrogen from urine, food waste, and cleaning chemicals. These nitrates can cause methemoglobinemia in infants if they are consumed. This condition affects infants’ ability to carry oxygen, which can even lead to fatal consequences if it isn’t treated promptly.

How Septic System Pollution Affects the Environment?

The improper management of a septic system can result in elevated levels of nitrogen and phosphorus entering local water bodies and groundwater. There is an estimated 10 to 20 percent failure rate among septic systems in the United States. Aging infrastructure, inadequate design, overloaded systems, and poor maintenance can all cause septic systems to fail.

When properly used and disposed of, fertilizers, yard waste, and pet waste can contribute to nutrient septic system pollution around the home. During wet weather, nitrogen and phosphorus runoff can also be increased by the number of hard surfaces and landscaping types. In malfunctioning septic systems, nitrogen and phosphorus may be left in the waterways after treating waste.

In surface water, overly abundant nutrients – phosphorus and nitrogen – act as fertilizers for bacteria and algae. As a result of rapid growth, algae blooms can reduce water quality, kill aquatic animals and plants, and produce toxins that can harm aquatic life.

How do Septic Systems treat Nitrogen from Human Waste?

A Septic system’s ability to remove nitrogen from wastewater varies according to the type of waste and its concentration. Generally, domestic wastewater contains between 50 and 60 milligrams per liter (mg/L) of nitrogen, but this can increase if a home uses low-flow fixtures, a school, campground, or office building uses the waste.

How Can Nitrogen from Septic Systems Harm Water Quality?

While pumping scum and solids, some nitrogen is removed from the septic tank. Ammonium is converted to nitrate by oxygen-loving bacteria in the drainfield of most septic systems. Nitrification occurs when the effluent is aerated, recirculated, and becomes “nitrified.” Advanced systems can remove up to 60% more nitrogen (up to 60 percent using aeration and recirculation).

Denitrification can remove over 90 percent of nitrogen from water when oxygen-free conditions are included in the treatment process. Nitrate is converted into nitrogen gas by denitrification. 

During denitrification, bacteria need to grow in an oxygen-free environment. The removal of nitrogen is possible with some advanced systems. It is also possible to increase nitrogen removal with a properly designed drainfield. Several factors influence what happens to nitrogen once it enters and eventually leaves the drainfield, including drainfield size, wastewater release rate, soil depth, the method of applying and dispersing wastewater (such as drip irrigation or trenching gravity, or pressure), and how vegetation is managed.

How to avoid Septic System Pollution?

1. Preventative Maintenance

Maintenance is crucial to ensure the septic system doesn’t pollute the groundwater. Neglecting your septic tank can cause it to fail, even if it has been constructed according to the regulations. Each septic system owner should monitor their system to ensure it functions properly. Monitoring the drainfield is a good way to check for signs of failure. These warning signs must be taken seriously, so the system does not fail and pollute groundwater.

To prevent excessive sludge buildup, it is important to pump out the tank every few years. Overflowing the tank with sludge will cause the water to pool in the drain field, leading to obstructive conditions.

2. Avoid Overloading the System

Septic systems often fail due to hydraulic overload. Organic waste needs time to digest, but wastewater leaves the tank too soon when too much water is sent into it. Thus, the system should not be balanced hydraulically. Taking multiple baths simultaneously in a house with several people is not recommended. Don’t do a huge laundry at once, but spread it out over multiple days. If you notice a leaky faucet, fix it immediately. When even a tiny trickle accumulates over time, it can have serious consequences.

3. Beware of Harmful Products

Septic systems have approximately 100 different chemicals that can be traced. Sinks, showers, and toilets contain these pollutants. The majority of cleaning chemicals are toxic to bacteria. Soaps designed to kill bacteria, such as antibacterial soaps, will kill bacteria in septic tanks. Therefore, such products should not be used in a septic system because they kill bacteria, which causes the system to malfunction.

How Can Crews Environmental Help?

Water pollution caused by septic systems can therefore be eliminated by being responsible users of the same. This means that septic systems should be used responsibly and the necessary maintenance procedures followed.

At Crews Environmental, we provide septic tank maintenance that is fast, affordable, and efficient to keep your system running properly all year long.

Having years of experience installing, repairing, and maintaining septic tanks, our experts will handle your septic tank efficiently. We provide the best and most affordable service when you hire us for septic tank maintenance and pumping. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.