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Management Measures

Chemical Additive Restrictions: Organic solvents are used as septic system cleaners and sometimes as substitutes for sludge pumping, however there is little evidence that such cleaners perform any of the advertised functions, and can instead exterminate useful microbes, resulting in increased discharge of pollutants. In addition, the chemicals themselves, halogenated and aromatic hydrocarbons, can easily contaminate receiving waters and common cleaner constituents are listed with the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) as priority pollutants. Restrictions on the use of these additives can preclude further exacerbation of poor system function (USEPA, 1993). Additive restrictions are most effective when used as part of a best management practice (BMP) system which involves other source reduction practices such as phosphate bans and use of low-volume plumbing fixtures, as well as mitigative BMPs such as upgrading and maintenance.

Education: Many of the problems associated with improper use of septic systems may be attributed to lack of user knowledge on operation and maintenance. Educational materials for homeowners and training courses for installers and inspectors can reduce the incidence of pollution from these widespread and commonly used pollution control devices. Education is most effective when used as part of a BMP system which involves other source reduction practices such as phosphate bans and use of low-volume plumbing fixtures, as well as mitigative BMPs such as upgrading and maintenance.
Elimination of Garbage Disposals: Eliminating the use of garbage disposals can significantly reduce the loading of suspended solids, nutrients, and BOD to septic systems, as well as decreasing the buildup of solids in septic tanks, thus reducing pumping frequency. Eliminating garbage disposal use is most effective when used as part of a BMP system which involves other source reduction practices such as phosphate bans and use of low-volume plumbing fixtures, as well as mitigative BMPs such as upgrading and maintenance.

Inspection and Maintenance: The high degree of system failure necessitates regular inspections. Homeowners can be provided with educational materials and can serve as monitors of their own systems. States and local governments should also develop an inspection program. A lower-cost, if less certain, alternative is for local governments to mail out printed reminders to owners informing them that inspection and perhaps maintenance is due for their systems. Some counties include such reminders on tax statements (Gordon, 1989). Utilities or other agencies can often be utilized at less expense for such a program. At a minimum, requirements should be established for inspection during change of property ownership. Agency ambient water quality monitoring programs can help isolate sources of pathogens in water resources.

Septic tanks require pumping to remove accumulating sludge approximately every 3 to 5 years. The frequency can vary depending on tank size, family size, and garbage disposal use. Failure to remove sludge periodically will result in reduced tank settling capacity and eventual overloading of the soil absorption system, which is more expensive to remedy. Maintenance can be required through contracts, operating permits, and local ordinances/utility management. Local governments can issue renewable operating permits that require users either to have a contract with an authorized inspection/maintenance professional or to demonstrate that inspection and maintenance procedures have been performed on a periodic basis (Gordon, 1989). Permit fees can be assessed to cover the program costs. Inspection and maintenance are more effective when used as parts of a BMP system which involves source reduction through elimination of garbage disposals and use of low-volume plumbing fixtures.

Phosphate Detergent Restrictions: Conventional septic systems are usually very effecitve at removing phosphorus. However, certain soil conditions combined with close proximity to sensitive surface waters can result in phosphorus pollutant loading. If such conditions are sufficiently prevalent within areas of concern, restrictions or bans on the use of detergents containing phosphate can be implemented. Eliminating phosphates from detergent can reduce phosphorus loads to septic systems by 40 to 50 percent (USEPA, 1980). As of October 1993, 17 states had enacted phosphate detergent restrictions or bans (Soap and Detergent Association, 1993). Phosphate restrictions are most effective when used as part of a BMP system which involves other source reduction practices such as elimination of garbage disposals and use of low-volume plumbing fixtures, as well as mitigative BMPs such as upgrading and maintenance.