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SEPTIC SYSTEM INSPECT DIAGNOSE REPAIR
SEPTIC CARE INSTRUCTIONS
SEPTIC D-BOX INSPECTION
SEPTIC DRAINFIELD FAILURE DIAGNOSIS
SEPTIC DYE TEST PROCEDURE
SEPTIC FAILURE SIGNS
SEPTIC INSPECTION & TEST GUIDE
SEPTIC LIFE EXPECTANCY
SEPTIC SUPPLIES & PARTS
SEPTIC SYSTEM DESIGN ALTERNATIVES
SEPTIC SYSTEM DESIGN BASICS
SEPTIC SYSTEMS, HOME BUYERS GUIDE to
SEPTIC SYSTEM SAFETY WARNINGS
SEPTIC TREATMENTS & CHEMICALS
SEWAGE BACKUP PREVENTION
SEWAGE EJECTOR / GRINDER PUMPS
SEWER GAS ODORS
SEWER LINE REPLACEMENT
SINKHOLES, WARNING SIGNS
SOAKAWAY BED FAILURE DIAGNOSIS
SULPHUR & SEWER GAS SMELL SOURCES
TOILETS, INSPECT, INSTALL, REPAIR
TRAPS on PLUMBING FIXTURES
TREATMENTS & CHEMICALS, SEPTIC
VIDEO GUIDES: Septic Videos
WASHING MACHINES & SEPTIC SYSTEMS
WATER SOFTENERS & CONDITIONERS
WATER SUPPLY & DRAIN PIPING
WASTEWATER TREATMENT BASICS
WATER, WELLS, WATER TANKS: TESTING GUIDE
WINTERIZE A BUILDING
This document provides important safety warnings for septic systems and cesspools, and provides some safety suggestions for septic system inspectors, septic system inspections, septic pumping contractors, and home owners.
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Examples & Case Reports of Fatal Hazards at Open or Insecure Septic Tank, Cesspool, Drywell Covers
Safety Warning: there is a very high risk of fatal falls into septic tanks, cesspools, or drywells: danger lurks at cesspools, open covers, tanks or tank covers in poor condition, and from high levels of methane gas CH4 or hydrogen sulfide H2S. These septic system dangers include the risk of collapse, falling, asphyxiation, explosion, and other potentially fatal hazards as well as risks of unsanitary conditions such as bacterial or viral infections. This hazard is more than theoretical. We have personally assisted in investigation of several septic or cesspool fall-in fatalities and are aware of others.
Inspecting a mobile park housing migrant workers at a New York farm, Steven Vemilye and Daniel Friedman documented various immediate and serious safety hazards at two open or semi-open septic tanks and cesspools. Shown above is a home-made dry-laid concrete block well (unstable) surrounding an open septic tank. The property manager left the concrete septic tank cover off and just tossed a light section of plywood over the system in order to make frequent septic tank pumping easier. This mobile home collection was occupied by many families including families with small children. An adult or child falling into an open septic tank is very likely to die quickly.
Above Mr. Vermilye, accompanied by the attorney who had asked us to perform a site inspection, was demonstrating the instability of the covers over septic facilities at this location. [As we document at MOBILE HOMES, DOUBLEWIDES, TRAILERS, we report with regret that Mr. Vermilye passed away on 19 June 2001.]
Watch out: Readers trying to diagnose and deal with sudden soil subsidence or yard collapses should see CESSPOOL SAFETY WARNINGS as those hazards can also apply to drywells and septic tanks, and also see SINKHOLES, WARNING SIGNS. Additional septic system safety warnings are at SEPTIC & CESSPOOL SAFETY.
There can be other unexpected hazards when inspecting building sites and septic systems. In the photo series above, the author was inspecting the home shown from outside before looking in the crawl space to locate the main waste line exit point and thus before predicting the probable location of the septic tank.
Walking close to this house should have set off an alarm about possible unsafe conditions: poor maintenance, old home, of an age likely to have used a steel septic tank. In fact the author found the tank very quickly by stepping through its cover, avoiding serious injury or even possible fatality mostly by luck. It was throw myself sideways into the briars and garbage at the site or fall completely into the septic tank.
A Safety Guide for Septic System Inspection, Cleaning, Pumping, and Homeowner Care
Do not drive over the septic tank or septic piping
Methane Gas Hazards around Septic Systems, Methane Gas Toxicity vs. Methane Explosion & Asphyxiation Risks, How to Measure Methane Gas Levels
Methane Gas Hazards are primarily of explosion or asphyxiation - see SEPTIC METHANE GAS for details.
We commented above at Septic System Safety that methane gas which maybe encountered in septic system is both explosive and an asphyxiant.
A thoughtful reader, George Fielder, previously a salesperson for GfG Instrumentation, pointed out that these are the hazards. (We had inaccurately stated that methane gas was "toxic".)
Readers who need more details about the safety concerns regarding methane gas in and around septic systems should be sure to review the septic system methane gas hazards and measurement and references cited at SEPTIC METHANE GAS (also see Septic Methane Gaslinks listed at Related Topics in this article)
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about septic tank safety, cesspools, drywells, & dangers to avoid
Question: digging with backhoe broke the septic tank
i was digging in my back yard and hit the septic tank and broke it open, it spilled into a 8 foot by 12 hole prolly 6 feet deep. i buried it, is that gonna cause any problems? - Steve 9/19/2011
Of course. You destroyed the septic tank.
Watch out: when the septic tank has been damaged there is risk of a collapse or someone falling in - risking a highly likley fatality.
Question: why did my septic treatment plant cave in?
I have wlwyestion my treatment plant has cave in - Valeria 11/3/12
Watch out: for safety when there are signs of a cave-in you should rope off the area and keep people away until a professional has investigated and repaired the site as necessary.
Question: report of septic tank fatality on Fafa Island in Tonga
Watch out: My brother-in-law just died yesterday from jumping into a septic tank to clean at his workplace on Fafa Island in Tonga. He was obviously unaware of the present dangers and unfortunately OH&S laws dont exist in the country. He was only 27. Please be careful! - Lavinia 2/19/2013
Reply: List of Recent Septic Tank, Cesspool, or Drywell Fatalaties or Catastrophes
We are saddened and dismayed to read of your brother-in-law's death in a septic tank. Indeed these fatalities occur everywhere, even where there are safety regulations, though perhaps at a less frequent rate where the dangers are better known.
If you can send us added details that might help other readers and I'll add them at SEPTIC TANK ACCIDENT REPORTS in hope that we can make more people aware of the dangers involved in un-covered or inadequately-covered septic tanks, cesspools, and drywells and about the risk of fatality on entering such a tank.
Falling into a septic tank, drywell, or cesspool is quickly fatal, either from being buried by falling soils and debris, or by asphyxiation. Septic gases are highly toxic and can kill in just minutes of exposure. Even leaning over an empty (just pumped) tank has led to collapse and fatality of a septic pumper.
Septic tank, drywell, cesspool and related safety articles are listed at the top of this page.
Question: green cover marked Poison Gas
A relative is looking to buy a house that was built in 1935. On the property there is a green cover maybe 3 feet circumfrance and says on it Do Not Open--Poison Gas--Danger. What could that be? - Stephanie Kascack4/3/2013
Meanwhile, because the condition of the septic tank and components are unknown and because you don't even know what the green cover covers, much less its condition, it woudl be safe to mark off the area and keep people away until you know what's there and its condition.
Questions & answers or comments about safety hazards around septic tanks & cesspools.
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Technical Reviewers & References
Related Topics, found near the top of this page suggest articles closely related to this one.