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When we do not see something every day we tend not to think about it. But there's something that those who live on the out skirts of town and in the county do have that they should think about more often. “What is that?” you may ask. Septic tanks. Maintaining your septic tank is something that is more important than you may think. It is very important for 3 main reasons.

The first is $money$. Systems are very expensive to repair or replace, and poor maintenance is a common cause of early system failures. In some cases it can help in the selling of the house if you have records that you have pumped the house in the last 2 years. This can lessen or possibly alleviate a septic tank and field inspection. The minimal amount of preventive maintenance that a septic system requires costs very little in comparison to a new tank or a full inspection. A new drain field can cost upwards from $15, 000.00 - $40, 000.00 depending on the company and the problem and your area.

The Second and most important reason: to maintain your system is to protect the health of your family, your community and the environment. When septic systems fail, inadequately treated household wastewater is released into the environment. Untreated wastewater from failing septic systems can contaminate nearby wells, groundwater, drinking water sources, lakes and streams. Chemicals improperly released through a septic system also can pollute local water sources and can contribute to system failures. For these reasons it is important that home owners educate themselves. When a septic system fails, inadequately treated domestic waste can reach the groundwater. Bacteria, viruses and parasites from human waste can cause disease, including but not limited to dysentery, hepatitis, and typhoid fever. Many serious outbreaks of these diseases have been caused by drinking water contaminated by household sewage due to poorly functioning or failed septic tanks and drain fields. Nutrients in human sewage like nitrate and phosphate can cause excessive algae blooms. These blooms cause aesthetic problems and impair aquatic life. Untreated sewage can contain certain biological agents such as bacteria, viruses, and parasites. However, the risk of illness depends on the type and the duration of exposure to the sewage. Some biological agents in sewage like bacteria (examples: E. coli, salmonella) may cause diarrhea, fever, cramps, or vomiting. Parasites like giardia may cause diarrhea and stomach cramps. Viruses like Weil's Disease cause an acute feverish disease marked by gastroenteritis, mild jaundice, persistent and severe headache. Hepatitis A causes liver disease. You may feel abdominal pain, nausea, jaundice (yellow skin) or diarrhea. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) says sewage workers are not at more risk of Hepatitis A infection than other workers. Hepatitis B causes liver disease. You may have jaundice (yellow skin), abdominal pain, or nausea. The disease has not been linked to exposure to sewage in the U.S. Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that causes AIDS. There are no known cases of wastewater workers getting HIV from their jobs in the U.S. and the risk is virtually nonexistent for Disease Transmission.

There are 3 common transmission ways for microorganisms to enter a human body:

1. Hand-to-Mouth Contact

This is the most common transmission way and it occurs during eating, drinking and smoking. Hand-to-mouth contact also happens while wiping the face with contaminated hands or gloves, or by licking splashes from the skin.

2. Skin-to-Skin Contact

Contact with contaminated organisms is often possible through cuts, scratches, or penetrating wounds. Certain organisms can enter the body through the surfaces of the eyes, nose and mouth.

3. Inhalation Contact

Contaminated organisms may penetrate the body simply as we breathe aerosolized particles or contaminated dust.

Finally, the third reason: to maintain your septic system is to protect the economic health of your community. Failed septic systems can cause property values to decline. Sometimes building permits cannot be issued or real estate sales can be delayed for these properties until systems are repaired or replaced. Also, failed septic systems can contribute to the pollution of local rivers, Lakes and shorelines that your community uses for commercial or recreational activities.

How do you know if you are having issues with your septic tank or drain field?

You should be alerted with the following warning signs:

  • Slow draining sinks and toilets
  • Gurgling sounds in the plumbing
  • Plumbing backups
  • Sewage odors in the house or yard
  • Ground wet or mushy under foot
  • Grass is growing greener or faster in one particular area of the yard.
  • Tests showing the presence of bacteria in the well water.

None of these signs can be considered a sure indication that a system has failed, but the appearance of one or more should prompt home owners to have their septic systems inspected. Septic systems fails can also occur without any of these warning signs. For this reason a family of 4 with one 1000 gallon tank should have the tank pumped ever 2-3 years depending on the ratio of female to male occupants.

What should you flush and what should you not flush?

NEVER flush hazardous chemicals, such as paints, varnishes, thinners waste oils photographic solutions, or pesticides. Did you also know that you should never flush coffee grinds, dental floss disposable diapers, kitty litter, feminine products, cigarette butts, condoms, fat, grease or oil, paper towels, or disposable wipes? Even though it says disposable it does not say biodegradable. These things do not break down in your septic tank, causing it to fill faster and it can clog your tiles, pipes, in and out of your house, the hose used to suction out your tank and even the grinder system at the treatment plant. This in turn will cost more money to everyone in the long run. So remember if it says disposable that means dispose in the trash can. When a package says flushable it means it will go down the drain but it will stay wherever it lands, it does not decompose. Remember to not hook your water softner up to your septic tank. All that extra water is very hard on your septic tank and system.

Call a professional whenever you experience problems with your system, or if there are any signs of failure. Again make sure tha Professional is State licensed, insured and bonded. Don’t be afraid to check and review or ask questions. Try to be home when the pumping is being done. Do not be afraid to make sure that the tank is pumped out completely. Your solids in the bottom should be gone not just the water. As the tank is pumped, it should be cleaned out thoroughly with the hose. There will be plenty of bacteria left to reactivate the system even when the tank is thoroughly cleaned. A reputable septage hauler does not mind questions, or showing you their work and explaining what they are doing.   

If you have seen or had a Hauler that has done something wrong: ethically or environmentally unsafe or that was not up to code. You have the right to report it. If you see a septic field that is leaking or a drainage system that is not up to code, you can report it. 

You can call the local County Health Department (for Lenawee County the # is 517-264-5214) or your County Drain Commissioner (For Lenawee County the # is 517-264-4696) or even the Michigan DEQ at 800-292-4706.

  • Remember to keep detailed records of repairs and pumpings, and inspections.
  • Have your tank pumped regularly. We have the ability to put you on a schedule 2-3 years out or more.
  • Conserve water to avoid overloading your system. Fix leaky faucets or toilets. Matt may have other suggestions for you to conserve water too, that are simple and inexpensive.
  • Divert other sources of water, like roof drains, house footings, sump pumps, water softeners, and sump pumps away from your system.
  • Remove or do not plant trees or shrubs near or on septic tanks or septic fields. Roots can invade the tiles and clog the holes and pipes. In some cases they crack and brake the tiles/pipe causing very expensive repairs.

For more information call your local hauler they will be happy to answer your questions.

Written by:

Misty L. DeJonghe

V.P. of Operations

Matt DeJonghe Septic tank Cleaning Service.

Foot note: information from the following sources:

Pipeline News letter

DEQ website

Tecumseh city meeting minutes


Restoration SOS

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