Septic tank cross setion drawing (C) InspectApedia.com Septic Wastewater Biocompatibility
Which onsite septic system effluent components of wastewater are helpful or harmful to soils or nearby waterways?
     


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Effects of septic or sewage wastewater on soils:

This article includes a table describing the effects of common wastewater constituents on arid soil, tropical and temperate soil, and on both ocean water and fresh water bodies.

These effects of eleven principal septic tank efflent constituents on soil and water bodies vary widely from beneficial to very harmful and highly undesirable.

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Effects of Septic Effluent Components on Soil & Water in the Environment

The chart below, discussion, and nearly forty research reference citations address the effects on soil or land and water environments of the discharge of nitrogen, organic compounds, water discharged in onsite wastewater disposal systems such as common septic tanks, drainfields, seepage pits, drywells, and soakaway beds disposing of both graywater and blackwater or sewage effluent.

Biocompatibility Chart of the Effects of Septic / Wastewater Ingredients on Soil & Water
Wastewater Constituent Effects on Soils Effects on Water Comments & References
Arid Land Soils Wet, Temperate & Tropical Soils Ocean Water Fresh Water
Boron
in wastewater
Highly toxic to plants at typical wastewater concentrations No effect Undesirable  
Chlorine (& bleach)
in wastewater
Undesirable in all soil types1 No effect Little effect

AEROBIC SEPTIC DISINFECTANTS

CHLORINE HAZARDS in WATER

CHLORINE IMPACT on SEPTIC

CHLORINE SOURCES in WASTEWATER

Industrial Toxins
in wastewater
Disastrous - extremely undesirable Highly undesirable2 Disastrous

Bisphenol-A, BPA

CHEMICAL CONTAMINANTS in WATER

CHEMICALS, KEEP OUT OF SEPTICS-2

ENDOCRINE DISRUPTORS at BUILDING

Endocrine disrupting chemicals in indoor and outdoor air [PDF]

CHEMICALS & CLEANERS into the SEPTIC TANK?

PLASTIC PIPING ABS CPVC PB PEX PVC

VINYL CHLORIDE HEALTH INFO

Nitrogen (N)
in wastewater
Very beneficial as Nitrogen is generally the limiting nutrient affecting plant growth

Beneficial

Watch out: may leach into ground water if added or present at excessive levels

Probably OK 3

 

Highly undesirable.

Nitrogen is the second most important growth lmiting nutrient of algae in fresh water.

SEWAGE NITROGEN CONTAMINANTS

SEWAGE & SEPTIC CONTAMINANTS:

Organic Compounds
in wastewater

Beneficial food for soil microorganisms.

Fast biodegradation times are desirable.

May impact septic tank condition4

Must be removed by oxidation in pre-treatment of wastewater to prevent oxygen depletion in water.

Fast biodegradation times are essential.

GARBAGE GRINDERS vs SEPTICS

GARBAGE GRINDERS on Sewers

Pathogens
(microorganisms)
in wastewater
Harmlessly biodegrade under proper conditions. 5    

SEWAGE PATHOGENS in SEPTIC SLUDGE

SEWAGE & SEPTIC CONTAMINANTS

SEWAGE CONTAMINANTS in FRUIT / VEGETABLES

pH
Acidity or
Alkilinity
of wastewater
pH Lowering is desirable pH Raising is desirable No effect Little effect

SEPTIC TREATMENTS & CHEMICALS

SEPTIC LIFE EXPECTANCY

pH in Drinking-water - InspectAPedia.com [PDF from the WHO]

Phosphorous (P)
in wastewater
Beneficial.
Leaching into groundwater or surface water unlikely due to low mobility in soil
Extremely beneficial. Phosphorous is a limiting nutrient to plant growth Probably OK6 Extremely undesirable. Phosphorous is algae's most growth-limiting nutrient. DISHWASHERS vs SEPTICS
Potassium (K)
in wastewater
Beneficial at washwater concentrations (laundry & dish washing) Probably OK, effects are unlikely to be measurable  
Sodium (Na)
in wastewater

Highly undesirable. Toxic buildup is likely.

Septic drainfield risk7

Undesirable but partly flushed by rain from all but clay soils

Septic drainfield risk7

No consequence No consequence

SALT / SOFT WATER IMPACT on SEPTIC, PLUMBING, HEATERS

REDUCE IMPACT of SOFTENER on SEPTIC

HEALTH RISKS & WATER SOFTENERS

Sulfur
in wastewater
Beneficial No consequence  
Water8 Highly benficial8 Possibly beneficial8 No Effect Little Effect

SEPTIC FIELD FAILURE CAUSES

FLOODED SEPTIC SYSTEMS, REPAIR

WATER SOFTENER IMPACT on SEPTIC

Notes:

1. Chlorine / bleach impacts: at sufficient concentrations chlorine may kill off or reduce the level of septic tank bacteria that are needed for effective wastewater processing. At normal home usage levels we do not expect to see an effect. Some septic systems require disinfection of wastewater before it is discharged to the environment.

2. Industrial toxins in ocean water: Even though diluted, may bio-concentrate in various life forms, moving up food chain to humans

3. Organic compounds: at a particulate level such as food waste, organic material in wastewater may add to septic tank volume and require more frequent pumping to avoid disposal field clogging where private septic systems are involved. Grease discharged into septic systems and sewers can cause clogging and failures.

4. Nitrogen impact on water: Nitrogen is potentially harmful in ocean water by encouraging growth of algae, but dilution in ocean envrionment probably means there is no measurable effect

5. Pathogenic microorganism discharge in wastewater impact on wastewater, septic tanks, soils: "harmlessly biodegrade" in soils is probably accurate in general but may not be in septic tanks and wastewater treatments connected to health care facilities. A corrolary problem is the high concentration of antibiotics in wastewater produced by health care facilities, nursing homes etc., - at levels that can damage or destroy essential bacteria in septic tanks and in the soils receiving wastewater.

6. Phosporous impact on ocean water: Phosphorous is potentially harmful in ocean water by encouraging growth of algae, but dilution in ocean envrionment probably means there is no measurable effect

7. Salt impact on soils & waterways: Burks & Minnis (1994) and others have researched the impact of salt on septic system failure.

8. Water impact on soils: although water volume discharge may be beneficial in general, water discharge in a volume sufficient to flood a septic disposal field is highly undesirable as results include septic system failure, sewage backups even into the building, and the discharge of un-treated wastewater into the environment.

Original source: Adapted from "Table 6: Biocompatibility Chart", p. 38 of unidentified document - citation needed. Also see the research citations found at REFERENCES

 

 

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