Septic tank additives (C) Daniel FriedmanGuide to Septic Drainfield Rejuvenation - "Un-Clogging," or "Repair" Products & Procedures
     

  • SEPTIC DRAINFIELD RESTORERS? - CONTENTS: Guide to septic tank or drainfield rejuvenation, treatments, chemicals & restorers: can chemicals or add-on aerobic systems fix a drainfield failure? Septic System Treatments, septic tank additives, septic drainfield restorer. Special bacteria for septic drainfield rejuvenation? Septic system chemicals, septic tank treatments, septic tank bacteria, yeast in septic tanks. Septic tank additives: position of septic experts, Canadian & US Government Agencies
  • POST a QUESTION or READ FAQs & reader comment about septic tank aeration add-on products & about drainfield rejuvenation treatments
  • REFERENCES

InspectAPedia tolerates no conflicts of interest. We have no relationship with advertisers, products, or services discussed at this website.

Guide to septic system drainfield restoration methods: this article discusses the use of various septic drainfield restoration methods including the use of Porox methods, aeration, jetting, chemical treatments and also septic tank or drainfield aeration add-on systems and special septic bacteria for failed septic system rejuvenation.

Are there some septic drainfield restoration systems that work without replacing the drainfield? Perhaps. Why don't we see expert, independent peer-reviewed research confirming their efficacy?

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Failed or Clogged Septic Field Rejuvenation or Restoration Products & Methods: Alternative Onsite Waste Disposal (Septic System) Materials & Products

Should you add septic treatment chemicals, nutrients, cleaners, bacteria, yeast, root killers, septic drainfield decloggers to septic systems? Generally, no. Why not? What causes septic system failures? What do experts say about septic chemicals and septic treatments? Why do people use them?

Article Contents

These questions are addressed here. Our page top photograph shows a collection of septic system additives, chemicals, cleaners, root killers, etc. for sale at a building supply store. We do not have specific information about these individual products and we make no specific representation about the efficacy of any individual product shown.

OPINION: the following comments describe the results of a search for information about two approaches to "failed septic system rejuvenation" and comment on the level of independent technical study and research supporting the types of product under examination.

Question about Septic Rejuvenator Systems

Have you tested or heard of the XXX (name deleted). It is inserted into the clean side of a septic tank and air is pumped into it to aerate the water? Does it work? Thanks for your help. -- Dave Massetti

Answer: Let's look at two septic system rejuvenator approaches - one that you asked about inserts an aerator into the septic tank, and a second approach that is a bit more sophisticated

Add-on Aerobics for Conventional Septic Tanks - an Interesting Septic Rejuvenation System Approach with Some Questions Remaining

We took a preliminary look at the XYZ Drainfield Savior system about which you inquired, but emphasize that we are expert on it nor its efficacy - what follows are some simple research and tentative conclusions based on study, reader comments about septic system repair attempts, and septic failure inspection & testing experience:

This XYZ Drainfield Savior system is comprised of a small do-it-yourself conversion kit to "convert" a conventional septic tank to a sort of aerobic septic system - though the design of a conventional non-areobic-septic-system tank and drainfield almost certainly were not originally made with an aerobic system in mind. Although you referred to the "clean side" of the septic tank, many conventional septic systems use a single chamber tank where this device would have to work if no other (costly) modifications to the system were made.

At AEROBIC SEPTIC SYSTEMS you'll see that an aerobic septic system has tank and a number of other design features designed specifically for that approach.

It is certainly true that aerobic type septic systems are able to treat waste to a higher level.. But a confirmation that treating current and future effluent to a higher level rejuvenates a failed drainfield despite any other conditions in the system would seem to deserve independent expert research and documentation beyond testimonials and the enthusiasm of the inventor.

The claims at the website are certainly enthusiastic: System XXX returns drain fields to proper functioning and keeps them from failing in the future [we have paraphrased to respect the identity of specific septic restorer products and systems].

  • System XYZ Drainfield Savior system Will Restore Your Existing Septic System - no matter what.
  • Whatever type of septic tank you have, in whatever condition.
  • Whatever type of septic leachfield or drain field you have, in whatever condition
  • Whatever septic system age is installed: even 60 years old.
  • Whatever condition the septic system is in
  • Our system will restore your septic system to good working order for a fraction of the cost of a new drainfield.

Comments and Questions about XYZ Drainfield Savior system

1. There are surely plenty of septic system failure cases that cannot and should not be "restored" by adding anything to the system whatsoever - such as collapsing septic tanks, broken baffles, crushed D-boxes, improperly located and designed fields, collapsed drainfield trenches or piping. All of these conditions need diagnosis and physical repairs. For that matter, without diagnosis we don't know that the septic "failure" isn't due to a broken pipe rather than a failed drainfield. So rushing to Septic Genie might be in some cases a mistake.

See the septic system inspection and diagnosis advice at SEPTIC SYSTEM INSPECTION & TEST GUIDE

and at SEPTIC SYSTEM INSPECTION LEVELS

2. The XYZ Drainfield Savior system and marketing includes a special septic bacteria along with a plastic aerator, tubing, and an air pump to be mounted in the septic tank.

A septic tank aerator will almost certainly improve the level of treatment in the septic tank, reducing the workload on the drainfield, though retrofit aerators in non-aerobic-designed septic systems need some research and testing. The air volume, flow rate, distribution, and septic tank shape, as well as maintenance are all designed with care for a true aerobic septic system.

Bacterial additives are something that experts in the field have told us time and again are inappropriate and unnecessary. We didn't find any independent assessment of this bacterial additive.

3. How does XYZ work? By sending less-loaded higher-treated effluent and special bacteria into the drainfield the clogged biomat around the drainfield trench sides and bottom is repaired.

This may be partly accurate. For example, if we totally stop using a drainfield trench for some period of time to allow it to rest (alternating drainfields) the biomat may recover some function. I'm not sure what happens when effluent load continues on a trench with higher-treated effluent. The inventors state that bacteria produced in the septic tank (their special strain) migrate to and improve the field biomat.

The inventors explain that "we have used the wrong bacteria for more than a century - although really the same bacteria, naturally occurring in wastewater and developing in septic tanks has served in septic and waste disposal facilities for longer than that.

4. Watch out: other than testimonials, and a patent for an earlier device, we could not find actual technical data, nor any independent research on effectiveness of this design, even though it is appealing.

Here is what one inventor explained about an XYZ product:

We decided to stop selling our original invention directly to homeowners because there were installation, maintenance, and performance issues with that design. So we shrunk the size and production cost of the original design but we didn't reduce its effectiveness. Then we re-packaged and began marketing our simplified design only to do-it-yourself owners. No septic contractors, engineers, or design consultants are involved.

None of this describes the theory, nor any independent corroborating testing of XYZ, though the inventors are enthusiastic and are confident in its success.

Certainly increasing the level of treatment in an otherwise un-damaged septic tank is likely to be a good idea in any case; and a system that does not use toxic chemicals is not likely to be harming the environment.

In sum - we often find XYZ drainfield rejuvenation products sold with strong claims from the inventor/vendor, and supported testimonials, but with little or no reliable third-party research.

Frequently Asked Questions about Drainfield Restorers
Can an Add-On Aerobic Treatment System or Septic Tank Aerator Rejuvenate a Septic Drainfield?

[Notice: the following comments provided by a reader are provided for study and thought about drainfield rejuvenation using a septic tank add-on aerator system. We have conducted no study nor found other independent studies concerning the questions raised by the writer cited. - ED.]

Question: Can Septic Genie [or other septic tank add-on aeration system] rejuvenate, restore, or fix a failed drainfield?

Do you have a file on dissatisfied customer emails concerning this [Septic Genie] product? Of course, the product website has glowing endorsements for customers in the short run...it creates clear fluid and eliminates odors rapidly; however, after 18 months, my septic tank level rises after one-half inch of measured yard rain.

I had been in contact with Jerry Fife after a soil scientist evaluated my property for septic compatibility ...finding a 1 inch per 10 minute drainage rate (somehow). I provided Jerry with his number so he could speak directly to my source and eliminate any layman's confusion or errors. To my knowledge, he has never contacted the soil scientist. Further, he appears extremely busy and has not taken or returned my calls yesterday and today; excluding his immediate desire to contact the soil scientist over 10 days ago, and promptly report back to me.

After a year, my septic should have been re-mediated or rejuvenated, according to the theory. Modest rainfall causes my septic tank level to rise. After 1.3 inches of rain this Monday (2 days ago), my tank overflows...as indicated by the bubbling fluid. - S.S.

Additional details: evidence of drainfield failure

Our house was placed into service in 1995 as the initial model home. It is unknown if the sales staff used it solely throughout the two-three year subdivision generation or if the staff moved from new house to new house. In any event, the house has been occupied since 1995...25.5 years of septic system use.

We purchased the house in late September 2000 and have resided here for 10.5 years. Reportedly, the residence had been vacant for nine months when we began our residency. Within six months of laundry use, the septic prohibited the toilet function closest to the septic drain entry...the guest bathroom. We ceased discharging laundry drains into the septic system, never used the garbage disposal, and observed the water softener drain never appeared to have been connected to house piping (was externally discharged). Several years later, we took additional steps.

Approximately two and one half years ago, we had the leach field pipes water jetted and inspected after pumping the tank itself. Eighteen months ago, we had the septic tank pumped, cleaned, and inspected for leaks and built a new laundry room and removed the (previously electrically disconnected) garbage disposal. Personnel cleaning leach piping found no deficiencies and reported no tree roots inside our piping. Septic personnel reported no cracks or leaks inside our septic tank. The same septic personnel installed my septic genie for three reasons; soil determination capability, familiarity with aerobic systems, and technical knowledge.

The septic genie's instructions indicate homeowner installers may elect to have septic personnel install the plastic tank adapter and riser pieces to ensure a good fit. My septic personnel had the regional representative verify my leach field soil was acceptable for aerobic system installation, a descendant and offshoot of the piranha corporation, in competition with genie and piranha parent company. I elected the genie because it was the only homeowner installation and at a reduced cost, vice their competition, after getting verification and installation acknowledgments.

My septic personnel completely installed my genie. Within three days, leach field odors from installation inspection test holes ceased and clear effluent existed in my septic tank. Within one week, the plastic lid had popped off my tank due to back-pressure; dismissing the ideal where using trained septic personnel ensures a snug fit when adapting to plastic tanks pieces. Septic technicians had forgotten to remove the eighty pound concrete lid and pushed the plastic riser back onto the concrete lip of the tank and then placed the concrete lid atop the plastic closure lid. Within another week, back-pressure had cocked the lid and bubbling clear effluent was visible and audible. Septic personnel returned and seated the lid for a third time, without applying new sealant excepting the original installation.

The riser remains cocked and the concrete lid remains in-place, and the air pump continues to produce a bubbling brook effect after one-half inch of residential rainfall, via a plastic rain collecting gauge.

A month ago we hired a soil scientist to perform sampling along our leach field and identify potential future mound installation sites. The soil under the bottom of the trench inspected was relatively dry. Having been in a drought for three years, excepting medium rains around genie installation time period, twenty inches of dry soil exists under our leach field before finding clay at fifty inches depth. Thus, our leach field bottom was correctly installed at thirty inches below the surface.

The soil examiner reported our soil composition as having between 80 and 85 percent sand; I did not inquire where he obtained this information. He assigned a 1 inch per 10 minute drain rate. He directed me to redirect existing backyard gutter drains and install a gutter on the wall adjacent to the leach field. He considered the leach field does not get dried out. I countered with the fact we had received virtually no rains for three months and soil near the leach field was completely dry with 50 inches of good soil to soak.

I disagreed with the notion area rain was inhibiting leach field function, after 18 months of genie use and one-half inch of rainfall causing my septic tank level to rise...as evidenced by the audible bubbling inside the septic tank. In essence, my tank level should remain near the bottom of the exit piping inside the septic tank. In short, if the genie eliminated dysfunctional bio-mat then soil under my leach fields must be wet as the system gets daily use. I must believe the indications and accept the bio-mat continues to seal the sides and bottom of the leach field, explaining how minimal rainfall causes septic tank level rises. Assuming no cracks into the tank exist.

Due to financial hardships in my area gutter installation requires going long distance to obtain installers. I have obtained landscaping plastic with a one-inch tubular lip to redirect rain away from the leach field. I am designing a 4-inch underground piping system to redirect gutter drains into a swell we had created alongside one leach line two years ago.

The manufacturer of the genie recommended I install a leach field monitoring well and remove the plastic lid on the septic and record how fluid levels react during rainfall, but also to determine resting tank level. I am replacing the bacteria bag in the genie and adding the five shot treatment (flush one bag every two days) for exponentiation of aerobic bacteria ability ...perhaps pushing through the bio-mat barrier.

Simultaneously, my septic personnel will reseal the plastic adapter, might pump and inspect my tank for cracks, and will install an additional safety pan below my riser lid. I want the new safety pan to have a 22-inch diameter (one-inch thick) Plexiglas viewing window sealed with marine goop sealant. Six screws are required to remove the plastic cover lid for viewing tank level.

My plumber is the regional Terra-lift (or their competitors brand) franchisee. He recommends I take the money he would charge, drive down the road, and toss it out the car window. As such, many could benefit from my largess. In lieu of a full treatment, Genie personnel want me to see if he would do a partial shock of the system.

Since this plumber has repeatedly made it clear (including last weeks above remarks) anything beyond installing a mound system is a waste of effort and money, I do not believe he will do a partial treatment. In his mind, I may get two weeks of effect and then the system will return to normal. He believes the type of limestone gravel installed in the 1980's was not the correct type for longevity. Since the house has met the federal timetable (20-25 years) for a system, he and others believe I should bite the bullet. However, if the Genie re-mediates bio-mat as advertised, the soil scientist believes we have good soil under the leach field, then I prefer to give it another six months at least.

Please realize, excluding the bio-mat issue, no one has given me a scientific reason for soil failure. If the plumber is correct, improper gravel was used, then I suspect the system should have failed within five years, not fifteen. I have not done soil compaction testing yet. Visually, little compaction was reported by the soil examiner. The plumber believes the limestone has formed a congealed impenetrable mass, as there good varieties of limestone and less desirable types. Rules in my State and County have changed over the life of my system, any repair is replacement with a mound system.

For sheer aesthetics, I believe my septic tank and Genie are the perfect pre-stage for the Elgen chamber above-ground system. My premise - injecting clear fluid into an above ground system enhances the operation of that system. Elgen also builds piranha, genie, and other royalty driven aerobic systems, in addition to mound system manufacture. The Genie is smaller in composition and diameter than the piranha and piranha offshoots, but the manufacturer considers size to have minimal impact. The same bacteria and air pump is used for both piranha and genie.

Hopefully, my Plexiglas view window will arrive before this weekend so I can seal it into the safety pan and if the rains cease I can begin to reseal plastic riser pieces and replace the bacteria colony in my Genie, and inspect the tank for leaks next week.

The above information may be used as good faith information. - S.S.

Reply: Septic Tank Flooding After Rainfall Indicates One or More System Failures

The rise in liquid level in a septic tank following rainfall is strongly suggestive of surface or subsurface runoff invading the septic tank or drainfield and in either case is an indication of failure in that a flooded drainfield will not adequately treat septic effluent. You'll want to investigate and cure the source of extra water in the system.

A separate question: the ability of an aerobic or any other septic tank action "improver" to rejuvenate a septic drainfield should be supported by independent expert studies. Advertisements and testimonials do not adequately substitute for impartial expert evaluation.

Also see the preceding discussion about drainfield rejuvenation or restoration beginning at SEPTIC DRAINFIELD RESTORERS?.

Aero-Stream: Another & Different Septic Rejuvenation System with Promise & Some Questions

Our search for XYZ Septic Drainfield Rejuvenators also turned up the system marketed by Aero-Stream® This is not the same aerobic septic tank system product described by the XYZ system we discussed above, though this approach uses similar principles to improve the level of wastewater treatment in the septic tank and intended to restore effluent flow through the drainfield.

Below we provide an example of some basic data gathering on the probable effectiveness of this septic drainfield restoration approach. Interesting information was available, though we'd have preferred to see a peer-reviewed journal article and absolutely independent research.

We don't see in the data how long the drainfield improvement will last, but the instructions and the warranty tell us what the vendor expects and will promise:

"If your system shows signs of sluggish flow- toilets that are slow to flush, sewage backing up in drains, foul smelling liquid above the septic system, or backflow from the septic field during pumping- you will want to install the Aero-Stream® System and run it for 12 to 18 months to remedy the situation. Once your Aero-Stream® Restoration and Maintenance System is installed, you will find it helpful to run it periodically as a preventative measure to prevent septic problems in the future. As a minimum, we suggest running the Aero-Stream® System for nine months every three years to maintain the permeability of the bio-mat."

The need to keep aerating may be confirming what people have complained about with other septic rejuvenation plans: unless the process is repeated the septic drainfield rejuvenation effects are only temporary.

We estimate the operating costs for this system are not bad - electricity to run a pump, but the true installed cost was not obvious at the website. The purchase cost for the equipment is under $2000. The cost to install the system was not obvious. The system process (and we infer therefore it's promised effectiveness) is guaranteed for two years for the more costly version and one year for the less costly version.

The Aero-Stream® system components listed by the company include:

  • Effluent filters (recommended to reduce the solid particle load on drainfields)
  • Aero-Stream® Unit - an air pump designed for outdoor use
  • Floats that connect to the air line to keep the air diffuser at the proper level in the septic tank
  • A micro bubble air diffuser to be inserted into the septic tank
  • Air line - plastic tubing to connect the air pump to the diffuser
  • A GFCI adapter (ground fault circuit interrupter) - important safety feature on any outdoor electrical wiring
  • Installation manual

Aero-Stream® refers readers to a Journal of Environmental Quality article that supports their product. Publishes research on various aspects of environmental quality in natural and agricultural ecosystems. In an article titled, Effects of Aeration on Water Quality from Septic System Leach fields the journal reported:

"A patented process for the rejuvenation of leachfields using aeration has been successful in restoring hydraulic function in more than 60 failed onsite wastewater treatment systems in the eastern United States"

The scientific study concludes that aeration has a strong effect on the speciation of nitrogen, and enhances significantly the removal of nitrogen, BOD5, and fecal coliforms and E.coli in leach and drain field. These aerobic effects have implications for the functioning of existing conventional septic systems and offer an effective alternative to both prevent failure and rejuvenate septic system leach fields.

Here are Some Tips for Evaluating Any Technical Journal Article

  • Who publishes the journal?

  • Who accepts and edits articles in the journal?

  • Who are the article authors, what are their education, experience, and professional affiliations?

  • Is the article peer-reviewed? Does it include references to related expert research?

Are there conflicts of interest between the article authors and the study or product reviewed? For example do any of the authors have a financial interest in the product. Readers may recall the brouhaha that ensued a decade ago when a study proving that cotton balls treated with an insecticide would be carried by mice into their burrows where the chemical would kill off deer ticks? The authors, it developed, held a patent on the approach recommended in their journal article.

The Aero-Stream® design was the subject of a professional journal article:

The publishing journal The Journal of Environmental Quality is an established journal (since 1972) published by ASA [American Society of Agronomy], CSSA [Crop Science Society of America ?] , and SSSA [The Soil Science Society of America] .

Since 1994 it has been published bimonthly; before that (1972-1993) it was published quarterly. The JEQ editorial board consists of the editor; associate editors; the managing editor; the Headquarters associate or assistant editor or editors working on the journal; the editors-in-chief of ASA, CSSA, and SSSA; the executive vice president; and the director of publications.

Here is an important conclusion from the study:

We found that aeration has a strong effect on the speciation of nitrogen, and enhances significantly the removal of nitrogen, BOD5, and fecal coliforms and E. coli in leachfield lysimeters. Furthermore, this enhancement took place in the absence of a conventional biomat. These effects have implications for the functioning of conventional septic systems.

Water managers and regulatory agencies are increasingly concerned with the effects of effluent from septic system leachfields on ground and surface water, especially in the case of failed or improperly constructed fields (USEPA, 2002). The high costs and unpredictable outcome of leachfield replacement makes this an economically unattractive alternative for most homeowners. Aeration may be an effective alternative to both prevent failure and rejuvenate septic system leachfields.

You can see a PDF copy of this Journal article (local copy) or a copy provided in HTML at the Journal's website

We have not yet researched the authors for conflicts of interest, funding, nor questions about the total effective cost, nor durability of the system, but a quick look says the approach discussed in the JEQ has promise and may be important. Further study is warranted.

General Caveats when Reading Technical Journal Articles (or online articles including this one)

  1. Consumer complaints about other septic restoration products [we have not received consumer comments about the system discussed here]: over the past 30 years of field investigation work and more than 10 years of publishing, we have had a recurrent reports from homeowners who tried a septic rejuvenation system or product. The most common complaint has been that while the process appeared to work at first, the solution was not lasting - often relief was less than a year.
  2. Peer review would be helpful: The publishing journal is an established one, with experts on staff, but the article is not a peer-reviewed work - meaning we don't have the benefit of criticism by other experts in the field. Peer review can make a significant difference in the acceptance of any research, as other neutral party experts in the field will know better how to interpret and question the methodology and conclusions of any study than a lay reader. For this study, George W. Loomis who commented (apparently privately) to the authors on the manuscript is a respected expert in the field of onsite waste disposal. We don't know what he said.
  3. What does a journal article really say? Does the article actually test the restoration of a failed drainfield or does it handle the less confounded task of comparing conventional septic tank wastewater processing with a retrofit aerobic and effluent filter system?
  4. We watch out for conflicts of interest in all technical studies. The inventor of the Aero-Stream® Aerobic System is Karl Holt - he is not listed among the article's authors.

The study above does not mention [and the authors may not have considered it pertinent] that the first author, David A. Potts, from Killingworth CT, holds a patent on several wastewater treatment methods see http://www.faqs.org/patents/inv/15893 and these three patents:

  • http://www.faqs.org/patents/app/20090071884
  • http://www.faqs.org/patents/app/20080203002
  • http://www.faqs.org/patents/app/20080202999

The second author, Gorres is at U. Rhode Island - see http://www.wrc.uri.edu/pubs/reports.html - and is also an active professional in the field. Cf: "Acid Phosphatase Activity As An Indicator Of Phosphorus Status In Riparian Forest Soils:, José A. Amador and Josef H. Gorres. http://www.wrc.uri.edu/pubs/reports/1999/Amador_1999.pdf

The patents indicate someone with great interest in the topic of effluent disposal, experience, and some inventions. As with our deer tick example above, it is always important for readers of journal articles that endorse products or systems for sale to remain alert for undisclosed, serious conflicts of interest in the study.

Other Drainfield Repair or Restoration Approaches

Typical drainfield pipe layout - USDA - DJFOur sketch (left) of a typical drainfield pipe layout is courtesy USDA.

Other Septic Rejuvenation Systems are discussed at SEPTIC TREATMENTS & CHEMICALS including the two cited below:

  • Arcan Enterprises, Scotch Plains NJ, septic field hydrogen peroxide treatment system. Arcan reports that their system can be applied by homeowners. 888-35ARCAN 908-322-0468 in New Jersey. E-mail: arcan@worldnet.net
  • [Check with your local health department for advice and any local regulations before using this or any other septic system cleaner or additive.]
  • Biocycle Wastewater Treatment a BioCycle Unit, Tertiary Polishing Filter and Monitoring System.- Ireland
  • Terralift: soil aeration and styrofoam injection to improve soil drainage. Terralift, Stockbridge MA, USA, Tel: 413-298-4272, Weebsite: www.terraliftinternational.com
    See TERRALIFT QUERY below.
  • Product Research Submissions Are Invited - for septic system maintenance and repair or alternative septic system products to be considered for listing, please include supporting research and product literature. There is no listing fee. Contact Us - please use email.

InspectAPedia.com is an independent publisher of building, environmental, and forensic inspection, diagnosis, and repair information for the public - we have no business nor financial connection with any manufacturer or service provider discussed at our web site.

We are dedicated to making our information as accurate, complete, useful, and unbiased as possible: we very much welcome critique, questions, or content suggestions for our web articles. Contributors, even if it's just a small correction, are cited, quoted, and linked-to from the appropriate additional web pages and articles - which benefits us both. Working together and exchanging information makes us better informed than any individual can be working alone.

Comments and suggestions for content addition, accuracy, references, white papers, technical studies on these or other septic system improvement and repair products are welcome. Citation of this article by reference to this web site and brief quotation for the sole purpose of review are permitted. Use of this information at other web sites, in books or pamphlets for sale is reserved to the author.

Question/Comment: Hydrojetting the drainfield lines and adding an aerator seemed to work ... but no biomat rejuvenation occurred and the drainfield failure continued

We have six children and began having problems with our septic in year 40 of its life. I had the tank pumped and the lines hydrojetted. I found and cleaned out the D-boxes too. I then made a home made septic genie and installed it on my failing septic system. It converted it into a nicer smelling system that seemed to work for a while. With the D-boxes uncovered the totally clear effluent could be seen entering each D-box.

This effluent was basically oderless with the aerobic unit installed. It seemed though that the effluent was not draining in the leach lines and that no "biomat rejuvenation" was taking place. I even ran airlines 4-5 feet into each leach line to be sure the aerobic bacteria could continue thriving.

I purchased and dumped the "special" bacteria directly into the D-boxes too. I even pumped the top 3 feet of effluent once a week out of the tank and into the the backyard beyond the leach field. 24 hours later the septic tank was always filled to overflowing.

Week after week. I finally took a loan and had a sewer pipe installed. $14,000 for the permit, $4,000 for the work, tons of work restoring my front and back lawns. Now I pay $38/month (~5000 gal/month) for sewer service and don't look out the window after work and shake my head like I used to for month after month. I have good black dirt with clay, but I think 40 years of washing machine lint has taken its toll on the leach field gravel section and totally plugged it up.

Bacteria does not break synthetics down, I think, so I was waging an un-winnable battle. Interesting note, my new effluent smelled just like the local creek did when I was a kid. It makes me wonder what was being dumped into that creek because there are plenty of municipal sewage treatment plants discharging into that same creek. - Anon. Dec 6, 2011

Reply:

Thanks for this important field experience report. We've posted it for the benefit of other readers.

Question/Comment: Aero-Stream Didn't Work, Septic Genie trial; also We Got Questionable Advice about Using Bleach in the Septic Tank to Cure Odors

I read your comments regarding your comparisons of Septic Genie vs. Aero Stream. I would like you to know what I have found from my experience with the two. I purchased the Aero Stream unit in April of 2010, when our septic tank started backing up after 30 years. Our drain fields would no longer function causing us to pump out our septic tank regularly. I followed the instructions to a tee when installing the unit.

After startup the Aero Stream caused a real bad odor to be emitted from our roof stack. It didn’t smell at all before the installation. The smell became increasingly bad a the days after installation went by. I called the staff at Aero Stream and they told me that it would take a little longer before the smell went away.

After about a month went by I called again. To complain about the smell and I was told to dump 2 gallons of beach into the toilet and flush. The smell went away for a couple of days and then returned again. Well this went on from April to August of 2010 and each time I called they recommended 2 more gallons of bleach. Mean time the scum layer at the top of the tank got thicker and thicker and caused a back up into the house at which time we pumped the tank again. I decided at this point that the Aero Stream was a joke and returned it for a refund.

In late August 2010 I decided to give the Septic Genie a try. Again I installed the unit as per the instructions. The Genie unit was a large 30 inch high unit with a width of a foot or more, compared to the little air stone hanging on the end of a ½ inch plastic tubing, used by Aero Stream.

Anyway I fired up the Septic Genie and within 24 hours the smell was gone from my septic tank and within a couple of days the scum layer was gone. The pump unit was much more quite than Aero Stream and it has been running flawlessly ever since. We went thru the wettest year on record last year in CT and we didn’t have any backups. We are in the process of ordering a new type of bacteria (In hockey Puck form) from Septic Genie to keep our tank healthy.

When I mentioned putting bleach in my septic system as recommended by the “Engineers” at Aero Stream, to other septic engineers, they could not believe these guys are even in the business of septic remediation, as bleach kill all bacteria good and bad in the tank and is a no no. So I thought I would give you my first had do it yourself experience. Not sure where you received your information regarding these two product, but it is dead wrong, if I interpreted correctly.

Sincerely, J.R.

Reply: We do not recommend septic system treatments as a cure for failed drainfields, we do not recommend pouring bleach into the septic system, increasing septic wastewater treatment level is smart but won't quickly restore a failed drainfield

A competent onsite inspection by an expert usually finds additional clues that help accurately diagnose a problem with a septic system, but frankly, having reviewed expert information from the strongest authoritative sources, in no case does anyone recommend pouring bleach into a septic system, nor are septic additives and treatments recommended - in fact they are illegal in many jurisdictions because some (not all) risk contaminating the environment as well as being ineffective. Details and citations are at ADDITIVES / TREATMENTS for SEPTIC SYSTEMS.

We are interested following installation of two different versions of a septic tank add-on aerator system that you report a cessation of odors with the second but not with the first product. And we agree that converting a conventional septic system to an aerobic design would be expected to improve the level of treatment of the wastewater and thus could reduce odors.

But it's important to keep a few warnings in mind:

1. a properly working septic system should not be making the site or building smelly in the first place, and often curing odors alone is not curing a more significant underlying problem such as a saturated drainfield, improper plumbing venting, or a damaged septic tank.

2. While improving the treatment level of wastewater is a great idea and will reduce the work having to be done by the drainfield, it is not likely that such a step will be capable of restoring a failed drainfield, certainly not in days, weeks nor likely even months.

3. And by no means have we recommended any septic system rejuvenation or treatment chemical or additive or system. We have extended an open invitation to vendors to provide independent authoritative research supporting claims that such treatments actually work - but to date we have not received other than marketing presentations and similar "white papers".

That said, I am concerned that you might have read our article as an endorsement of one of these approaches, and to help make matters clear to readers I will post your remarks and our reply.

Watch out: aerobic systems and add-on septic tank aerators keep the contents of a septic tank agitated. That's why an aerobic design uses a multi-compartment septic tank. A retrofit aeration system added into a conventional septic tank risks further damage to the drainfield if the design pushes these agitated, suspended solids out of the septic tank. Make sure that the septic tank baffles are intact, that an appropriate septic filter was included in the design, or best, consult the product manufacturer and a septic engineer for exact guidance on how to assure that the whole system is working properly and meets local sanitation codes.

To be clear, we do not endorse specific septic system products or services. InspectAPedia is an independent publisher of building, environmental, and forensic inspection, diagnosis, and repair information provided free to the public - we have no business nor financial connection with any manufacturer or service provider discussed at our website. 

Reader Question: using hydrogen peroxide in the leach field or using calcium polysulphide as a drainfield restorer?

(Feb 24, 2014) Brett said:

I have a gray water system only (a separate sewage tank for the toilets)that is only 30 feet long and has an arch type sytem laid in native soil. Due to local laws my system is grandfathered to be allowed, but I cannot increase the size of my field or improve it. When we moved in, trucks ran over the field and harmed it. Two years ago I dug it up left the arch in place but added 2-4 inch gravel three feet wide and two feet deep on either side and lay water permeable ground cloth over the gravel and covered with soil. (I did this all by hand and I do NOT want to have to do this again!) Last year the system started to slow way down.

Based on what the internet had to suggest I used 4 litres of 17% hydrogen peroxide to clear the inlet line as it was plugged. That improved the flow immediately. I also used approximately 12 litres of calcium polysulphide that I brewed myself and added surfactant to.

From what I read I will need to continue to add this lime sulphur solution every six months. Sure enough my system is slowing down again and the ground is still very frozen with a good 3 feet of snow burying my fire pit, so I was going to buy a lime sulpher product like Septic Seep to use. I was also considering infusing my leach field with Hydrogen peroxide again.

Please not that there is NO SEPTIC TANK nor a distribution box. The line from my house goes directly to the leach field. My question is: Am I wasting my money buying Calcium Polysulphide? And should I use hydrogen peroxide to clear my lines to let the lime sulphur get into the leach field?

Reply:

Brett I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but if I have the right idea of what you have installed, you've built a huge horizontal cesspool or seepage pit. Not only are chemical treatments unlikely to be effective, they're likely to be illegal and are not recommended by any septic authority I've found. IMO you are pouring labor and good money down the toilet.

It MIGHT be the case that with such a ... how should I put it ... special septic system "design", there could be a blockage early in the system layout, solids preventing effluent from flowing past, and it might be possible to scope the system to look for evidence of that.

But ultimately you need a septic tank and drainfield.

Reader Question: is it possible to restore a rainfield?

(Apr 5, 2014) Al said: [originally posted at SEPTIC BIOMATS]

Can a drain field be partially restored. I have 2 visible drain field lines that are clogged at the bottome of a very steep slope. If I install ya complete new drain field it would be almost financially impossible for us as we are retired. Also what do you think about the new types of drain field pipe on the market such as the "rock less" pipe. Are soill has a very highly red clay composition. Thank you.

Reply:

Al,
I don't agree with the term "restored" drainfield if someone means treating with chemicals or injections - which generally don't work, waste money, contaminate the environment and in many areas are illegal.

But certainly I do agree that one could excavate and repair or replace just part of an existing drainfield.

Watch out though: if the contractor, in the course of digging up and replacing say two drain field trenches drives his backhoe all over the rest of the drainfield he's probably going to destroy it - which then converts the job into a complete replacement.

The "no-rock" drainfield systems can work perfectly fine, IF the soil conditions give adequate percolatio; chances are you'll find that you need wider trenches, possibly longer trench length in at least some soil areas.

Reader Question: Is a drainfield shock treatment worth trying?

5/3/2014 Nathan said: [originally posted at SEPTIC BIOMATS]

I have begun researching a product called BioMat-X which is described as a "drain field shock treatment". It claims to provide "trillions" of enzimes into the drain field to absorb the thgick biomat layer preventing adequate water absorption. It also claims to be beneficial to the environment as it reduces the runoff of untreated sewage. Is there any scientific basis for this claim? The $185 per gallon cost surely compares favorably with the cost of field replacement. Is it worth the risk to try it?

Reply:

Typical drainfield trench cross section USDA - DJFNathan,

If you want to try the product and if it is not prohibited by your local or state health department (as many septic treatments and additives are indeed prohibitd), I can't object.

The appeal for a magic bullet we could pour into drains, a d-box, septic tank, or drainfield line is very great considering the cost of replacing a failed drainfield.

If we eschew for a moment the illegal, toxic or harmful chemicals used in some processes and just address benign treatments, I remain disappointed that after decades of working in this area and of inviting product marketers to allow us to see independent third party research that shows that the products actually work that invitation has gone un-satisfied.

I've yet to receive supporting data. We have received some reader reports of having used septic field treatment products that did *not* work, leaving me a bit skeptical about online testimonials and white papers produced by product manufacturers or marketing companies.

If we were going to perform a test of a drainfield treatment chemical that was safe to use (as enzymes may well be) I'd like to see the a sound experimental design that allowed examination of the soil in cross section, visually and chemically as well as for percolation rate changes. It's a difficult thing to test considering that there are many variables: soil conditions, septic use, weather, and disturbance of the soil just to look at it.

My OPINION is that the products generally are not effective.

If you'd like to give it a try, why not purchase a single gallon and obtain the seller's advice on how to use it in a single small drainfield area that you might then be able to monitor for changes in the soil percolation rate?

I'm confused by your phrase indicating that the septic drainfield shock treatment is going " to absorb the thick biomat layer "

I agree that the biomat eventually clogs the drainfield and slows or stops soil absorption of effluent from the soakaway bed or drainfield trench. That clogging material is a combination of soil organisms (hence the "bio" in "biomat" combined with grease, sludge, solids, sometimes salts, and whatever else has flowed into the drainfield trench. In cross section of a trench it shows up as a distinctive black band around the trench perimeter and extending inches into the surrounding soil.

I can imagine the break-down of the biomat by soil organisms over time (a long time, years) if a field is taken out of service to allow it to recover, or partial breakdown by use of harsh, (usually illegal) chemical treatments, but I am unclear about how enzymes would "absorb" the biomat.

Enzymes are agents that produce chemical changes that help break down or "digest" a biologial material.

Enzymes are not substances that "absorb" other biological materials.

They are "any of various proteins, as pepsin, originating from living cells and capable of producing certain chemical changes in organic substances by catalytic action, as in digestion. " - Websters

I understand that marketing material may be written not for scientists but for consumers but my opinion is that "absorbing the biomat" is a phrase that itself makes me nervous that the claim is at best confusing.

Soil Aeration Processes for Septic Drainfield Rejuvenation

Reader Question: sinkholes after terralift treatment of septic drainfield

12/19/2014 Anita said:

I had my leach bed terra lifted a few months ago. Now i have sink holes in my yard

Reply:

Anita,

The Terralift procedure is described as improving problems traced to soil compaction, saturation, and improper drainage (the company's process description is at - www.terraliftinternational.com/terralift/index.html ).

The procedure is a combination of a probe driven into the soil by a pneumatic hammer, air injection into the soil (also see our articles on well flow rate rejuvenation by fracturing), and the insertion of styrofoam pellets into the fractures, all intended to improve soil drainage - at least within the area or soil layer that was treated.

One can SPECULATE that the disturbance of soils to improve drainage MIGHT happen to also open up drainage into a buried and collapsable site feature, but we don't know if water was draining into buried tree stumps, abandoned buried tanks, a limestone formation, or an actual sinkhole.

It would be reasonable to call Terralift to ask about their experience with sinkholes after terralift treatment and to ask their advice.

You might need a geotechnical engineer to make an accurate site assessment - for safety - but I can't guess as you don't describe the size of your sinkholes, nor where you live. Some areas such as much of Florida and other areas in the U.S. over extensive underground mining or drilling are more likely to include sinkhole risks.

The Terralift process, a patented procedure operated by Terralift International, is a septic drainfield rejuvenation process that in concept, breaks up, aerates, and opens compacted soils to improve drainfield absorption (soakbed absorption) of septic effluent.

Really? To the extent that the process indeed opens up compacted soil it will provide some improved effluent flow. But in our opinion, what the process cannot do is remove the accumlated and thickened biomat that generally blocks soils beneath a soakbed or leachfield. Smiley (1990) argues that GrowGun or Terralift processes do not significantly alter the bulk density of the treated soil. Rolf (1991) did not agree with Smiley if the soil was sandy but did agree with Smiley if the soil was clay. Hodge (1993) found no postive effect on trees.

Day (1994) points out that there is no universally successful technique for de-compacting soils. She conntinues:

"This is not surprising in that good soil and good soil structure are the result of countless years of naturally occurring physical and biological activity. We would not expect, then, that any quick fix could repair the damage done in soil compaction. ... Many amelio9ration methods have focused on soil aeration. It now seems, however, that as long as drainage is adequate, aeration is most likely not the primary restricting factor resulting from soil compaction. Techniques that physically reduce mechanical impedance and improve soil filth are approaches that merit further exploration." - Day (1990)

Contact the Terralift company at

Terralift: soil aeration and styrofoam injection to improve soil drainage. Terralift, Stockbridge MA, USA, Tel: 413-298-4272, Weebsite: www.terraliftinternational.com

Similar processes or equipment include Grow Gun & Robin Dagger eequipment.

Research on pneumatic subsoil loosening & treatments

  • Day, Susan D., and Nina L. Bassuk. "A review of the effects of soil compaction and amelioration treatments on landscape trees." Journal of Arboriculture 20, no. 1 (1994): 9-17.
  • Hähndel, Reinhardt, and Hans Prün. "Fertilizers, 3. Synthetic Soil Conditioners." Ullmann's Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry.
  • Hascher, William, and Christina E. Wells. "Effects of soil decompaction and amendment on root growth and architecture in Red Maple (Acer rubrum)." Arboriculture and Urban Forestry 33, no. 6 (2007): 428.
  • Hodge, S. J. "The effect of stem nutrient injection and compressed air soil injection on the performance of established amenity trees." Arboricultural Journal 17, no. 3 (1993): 287-300.
    Abstract:
    The response of mature street trees to nutrient injection into the stem, and compressed air injection into the soil in four experiments is reported. Nutrient injection resulted in no consistent tree response. Compressed air injection improved the shoot extension of birch on a compacted sandy loam site for the three years of assessment. No positive effect was detected in declining sweet chestnut on a compacted clay loam site.
    Sumario
    En cuatro experimentos se informa sobre la respuesta de árboles de calle maduros a la inyección de nutrimiento en el tronco y a la inyección de aire comprimido en el suelo. La inyección de nutrimiento resultaba en una respuesta del árbol inconsistente. La inyección de aire comprimido mejoraba la extensión de tallos en abedules en un lugar de marga y arena compactadas durante tres arios de valoración. No se detectó un efecto positivo en castaños viejos en un lugar de marga y arcilla compactadas.
  • Iles, J. K. "The science and practice of stress reduction in managed landscapes." In XXVI International Horticultural Congress: Environmental Stress and Horticulture Crops 618, pp. 117-124. 2002., FR) (1988).
  • Krieter, M. "Untersuchungen zur Waldduengung mit Dolomit-Pellets und der Terralift-Druckluftsonde." Allgemeine Forstzeitschrift (1988).
  • Potts, David A. "Dewatering a leach field." U.S. Patent 6,969,464, issued November 29, 2005.
  • Rolf, Kaj. "Recultivation of compacted soils in urban areas." Document-Swedish Council for Building Research (Sweden) (1994).
  • Rolf, K. "A review of preventative and loosening measures to alleviate soil compaction in tree planting areas." Arboricultural Journal 18, no. 4 (1994): 431-448.
    Abstract:
    Where a soil has already been compacted, or where there is a risk that it will be compacted, it is essential to know how the condition can be alleviated or overcome. By using the right equipment and by not subjecting soft surfaces to high axle loads, compaction can be avoided. Where the soil is already compacted, the wise and sympathetic use of an excavator can assist in bringing the soils into a condition where it can support vegetation—grow shrubs and trees. This paper describes and discusses the use of mechanical equipment to improve the condition of soils which have been affected by construction practices.
  • Rolf, Kaj. "Soil physical effects of pneumatic subsoil loosening using a Terralift soil aerator." Journal of Arboriculture 18 (1992): 235-235.
  • Rolf, Kaj. "Soil improvement and increased growth response from subsoil cultivation." Journal of Arboriculture 17, no. 7 (1991): 200-204.
    Abstract . Subsoiling with an excavator , before planting , was used to reduce th e negative effects of soil compaction . Tw o soil types were used and resuls showed that soil bulk density wa s reduced an d por e volum e an d airfille d porosit y a t fiel d capacit y ha d increased . Penetratio n resistanc e wa s lowere d fo r bot h sites . Thre e year s afte r planting , plant s wer e highe r a t th e subsoiled sandy soil but not at th y soil , compare d wit h th e controls.
  • Smiley, E. Thomas. "Terravent™: Soil fracture patterns and impact on bulk density." Journal of Arboriculture 27, no. 6 (2001): 326-330.
  • Spring, Jonas, Doug Joustice, "UBC SEEDS Projevct: Macmillan Precinct Oak Management Plan." (2003).
  • Suchecki Jr, Ronald J. "Method for introducing materials into a medium." U.S. Patent 5,810,514, issued September 22, 1998.
  • Zinck, Eugen. "Process and device for loosening agriculturally used soil." U.S. Patent 4,660,480, issued April 28, 1987.
  • Zinck, Eugen. "Compressed-air pile-driver." U.S. Patent 4,496,007, issued January 29, 1985.

Trenchless Pipe Technology Proposed for Septic Drainfield Soakaway Bed Leachfield Pipe Repair or Replacement

Reader Question: can I replace failed drainfield piping using trenchless technology for pipe replacement?

7/3/2014 Anonymous said:

I believe a section of Orangeburg pipe in my septic leach field has been broken. Can I have Roro Rooter Co. replace all of the Orangeburg pipe by pulling in a new perforated plastic pipe and still comply with Massachusetts Title 5 ?
They would dig two small (2x3 foot holes one at the beginning and one at the end of the leach field. They would run a video camera into the leach field to inspect the piping.

They would then shove a plastic rod into the pipe and then hook onto a 5 inch boring head and pul this head through to destroy the old Orangeburg pipe.

Once the boring head has created a new tunnel, they would pull a new 4 inch perforated pipe onto the existing leach field thus solving the broken pipe problem.

Can this system be done and still comply with Massachusetts Title 5 laws ?

[This Q&A was originally posted at SEPTIC FAILURE CRITERIA ]

Reply:

Anon,

You will want to call your local building department about the Massachusetts Title 5 approval question (and please let me know what you're told). The authorities may approve the solution you propose if the design is credible, since Title 5 does not explicitly require specific design materials so much as it requires proper drainfield capacity, layout, height above seasonal high water table, and evidence of working - or of failure.

Indeed there is a whole industry of trenchless pipe replacement, though I've not read any studies of applying that technology to perforated drainfield piping installation. We describe the trenchless pipe repair process at TRENCHLESS PIPE REPAIRS.

Because using scholarly research tools we found it difficult to find independent research reporting on the long term success of the approach you describe, perhaps you can obtain (and refer to me) citations or documentation of the procedure for review.

Watch out: I would also make a careful cost comparison of this approach vs. a complete conventional drainfield replacement. A drainfield that is so old that orangeburg (clay) pipe was still in use until now is likely to be at or past the end of its life for more reasons than collapsed pipe, such as salt, grease, or biofilm clogging of the soils surrounding the drainfield trench.

It would be unfortunate to pay for this procedure and then have to dig up and install the whole field anew anyway on discovery that it is in failure.

Research Citations for Trenchless Sewer Pipe Replacement Procedure & Applications

See these studies of trenchless sewer and other large pipe replacement & (which does NOT mean drainfield) rehabilitation

  • Beetschen, Lee J., and William C. Henry. Evaluation of trenchless sewer construction at South Bethany Beach, Delaware. Vol. 1. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Research and Development, Municipal Environmental Research Laboratory, 1978.
  • Curran, Sully. "Installation of Large Diameter Buried Pipes." Proceedings of the Water Environment Federation 2007, no. 19 (2007): 505-511.
  • Forbes, James H. "Wastewater collection." Water environment research (1993): 303-305.
  • Sen Gupta, B., S. Chandrasekaran, and S. Ibrahim. "A survey of sewer rehabilitation in Malaysia: application of trenchless technologies." Urban water 3, no. 4 (2001): 309-315.

Continuing citations, these authors do address, at least to a limited degre, sewer & private or decentralized wastewater drainfield rehabilitation using trenchless pipe technology

  • Haarhoff, Mr Thomas. "Paper Title Sustainability Assessment for First Time Wastewater Scheme."
  • Liden, Doug. "Wastewater System Improvements Project Environmental Assessment." (2003).
  • Nawrot, Tadeusz. "Economic analysis of small diameter gravity sewers compared to other sewerage systems." Teka Komisji Ochrony i Kształtowania Środowiska Przyrodniczego 7 (2010).
  • Wu, Shan, Shiwen Tang, Yueheng Hu, and Simon Thibault. "Research on the Septic Tank of Existing Building Drainage System Based on the Sustainable Development View." In Reston, VA: ASCE copyright Proceedings of the International Conference on Pipelines and Trenchless Technology 2011 October 26. 29, 2011, Beijing, china| d 20110000. American Society of Civil Engineers, 2011.

 

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