Ground Water Pollution From Septic Systems

Humans started disposing of "human waste" by defecating into a hole in the ground or an outhouse, then discovered we could float our turds out to the hole using water and never have to leave our shelter. However, one of the unfortunate problems with septic systems is, like outhouses, they pollute our groundwater.

At the end of the 20th century, there were 22 million septic system sites in the United States, ■ p fjCIVG O serving one fourth to one third of f the U.S. population. They were notorious for leaching contaminants such as bacteria, viruses, nitrates, phosphates, chlorides and organic compounds such as trichloroethylene into the environment. An EPA study of chemicals in septic tanks found toluene, methylene chloride, benzene, chloroform and other volatile synthetic organic compounds related to home chemical use, many of them cancer-causing.3 Between 820 and 1,460 billion gallons of this contaminated water were discharged per year into our shallowest aquifers.4 In the U.S., septic tanks are reported as a source of ground water contamination more than any other source. Forty-six states cite septic systems as sources of groundwater pollution; nine of these reported them to be the primary source of groundwater contamination in their state.5

The word "septic" comes from the Greek "septikos" which rou have a Septic Tank System means "to make putrid." Today it still means "causing putrefaction," putrefaction being "the decomposition of organic matter resulting in the formation of foul-smelling products." Septic systems are not designed to destroy human pathogens that may be in the human waste that enters the septic tank. Instead, septic systems are designed to collect human wastewater, settle out the solids, and anaerobically digest them to some extent, leaching the effluent into the ground. Therefore, septic systems can be highly pathogenic, allowing the transmission of disease-causing bacteria, viruses, protozoa and intestinal parasites through the system.

One of the main concerns associated with septic systems is the problem of human population density. Too many septic systems in any given area will overload the soil's natural purification systems and allow large amounts of wastewater to contaminate the underlying watertable. A density of more than forty household septic systems per square mile will cause an area to become a likely target for subsurface contamination, according to the EPA.6

Toxic chemicals are commonly released into the environment from septic systems because people dump them down their drains. The chemicals are found in pesticides, paint, toilet cleaners, drain cleaners, disinfectants, laundry solvents, antifreeze, rust proofers, septic tank and cesspool cleaners and many other cleaning solutions. In fact, over 400,000 gallons of septic tank cleaner liquids containing synthetic organic chemicals were used in one year by the residents of Long Island alone. Furthermore, some toxic chemicals can corrode pipes, thereby causing heavy metals to enter septic systems.7

In many cases, people who have septic tanks are forced to connect to sewage lines when the lines become available. A U.S. Supreme Court case in 1992 reviewed a situation whereby town members in New Hampshire had been forced to connect to a sewage line that simply discharged untreated, raw sewage into the Connecticut River, and had done so for 57 years. Despite the crude method of sewage disposal, state law required properties within 100 feet of the town sewer system to connect to it from the time it was built in 1932. This barbaric sewage disposal system apparently continued to operate until 1989, when state and federal sewage treatment laws forced a stop to the dumping of raw sewage into the river.8

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