Disposal & Treatment Failures

In simplest terms, there are two visible disposal failures:

  • Toilets or other fixtures back up into the house
  • Effluent or sewage appears at the surface of the yard, or the neighbor’s yard!

Typical causes range from things that are easy and cheap to repair, to a need for complete system replacement:

  • Clogged pipes
  • Broken pipes
  • Damaged tank
  • Tipped distribution box
  • Clogged/broken soil absorption piping
  • Clogged absorption soils (grease & solids)
  • Saturated soil absorption area

Disposal & Treatment Failures

However there can also be treatment failures. Effluent may not back up or appear on the surface, but if insufficiently treated effluent reaches a private well or any stream or waterway, the environment is being contaminated — an unacceptable condition. Historically many people have just worried about disposal. As the quality of drinking water deteriorates in many areas and as population grows in many previously thinly-populated areas, proper treatment has become the real concern for everyone’s health.

For example, if there is not sufficient soil between the bottom of the soil absorption system trenches and the local groundwater, the local environment is being contaminated.

Other causes of failure:

  • Driving over: the absorption system
  • Paving over: the absorption system
  • Flooding the absorption system: with surface or roof runoff, or rocky, poorly-drained or under-sized sites may simply lack capacity
  • Improper original construction: especially on rocky, poorly-drained sites (pipes settle, for example)
  • Tipped or flooded distribution boxes: resulting in uneven loading of soil absorption system lines
  • Use of additives: which claim to extend system life can generate so much activity in the tank that solids are held in suspension and forced into the soil absorption system! Do not add any treatments, chemicals, yeast, or other treats to a septic system. In general these treatments don’t work, may ruin the system, and are illegal in many localities. There is no magic bullet to repair a bad SAS.
  • Rusting steel tank covers can cause death! Rusted covers can collapse. I have reports of children and adults who have died from this hazard, as recently as December 1997. Septic gases are highly toxic and can kill in just minutes of exposure.
  • Concrete tank lids: can be damaged by vehicle traffic; heavy duty covers are available.
  • Steel tank baffles: rust out and fall off, permitting solids to enter the soil absorption system
  • Steel tank bottoms rust out: or sections may separate causing leaks
  • Concrete tank baffles: may erode from chemicals, detergents, poor concrete mix, water flowing over top of baffles, or may be broken by improper pumping procedures
  • Houses clustered around a lake: often will have a marginal system as properties were crowded together, built as part-time summer-camps, were built without code supervision, and often were built using amateur, marginal home-made systems.
  • Age: eventually even a well-maintained SAS will clog and have to be replaced.

If you think your system has failed, or you see some of the signs listed above, Call D.F. Clark at 978-356-5638 for an inspection, or your local Septic company if not in the Essex County area.