Nature and Environment

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Earth Gauge Tip of the Week — Smart About Septics

5/14/2012 10:52:32 AM

Tags: septic tanks, environment, water quality, pollution, Earth Gauge


You probably know that failing to maintain your septic tank could cost you thousands of dollars in repairs - just ask Jack and Greg from "Meet the Parents."  But did you know that excess nitrogen, phosphorus and other toxins from leaky septic tanks can be washed into our waterways and oceans, where they can sicken and even kill fish, shellfish and other marine animals?  Failing septic systems septic systemleach nitrogen into your backyard soil - and that nitrogen can reach groundwater or surface waters.  When these nutrients reach larger bodies of water, they spawn unpleasant algal blooms that decompose and deplete the dissolved oxygen that aquatic animals need to survive.  Some overgrowths of cyanobacteria - blue-green algae - can create toxins that are harmful to plants, animals and even humans if we ingest contaminated shellfish or swim in polluted waters.

Viewer Tip:  Since faulty septic tanks can contribute nutrient pollution that reaches our waterways, it's important to keep them properly maintained.  Following proper guidelines will help prevent expensive repairs and keep the environment clean.  Here are some helpful tips for keeping your septic tank in check:

  • Keep your septic system maintained.  For typical septic systems, experts recommend a professional inspection every three years and a pump-out every three to five years.  Some systems may require more frequent maintenance.  Most counties require specific cleaning and inspections every three to five years.  Check your county website to make sure that you are meeting these guidelines.
  • Use your water more efficiently by installing water-efficient faucets, showerheads, toilets and household appliances.
  • Care for the "drainfield" by planting only grass above it - tree roots can dislodge the plumbing.  Never drive or park your vehicle over the drainfield.

For more weather and environment tips, visit Earth Gauge!

(Sources: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “A Homeowner’s Guide to Septic Systems”; World Resources Institute, “Sources of Nutrient Pollution”;  Chesapeake Bay Program Phase 4.3 Watershed Model; Image courtesy of EPA.)

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