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Do Your Part, Be SepticSmart!

2013 September 27

By Maureen Tooke

When you think of infrastructure, you typically think of roads, right? But there is a hidden infrastructure we all tend to forget about since it’s underground: our drinking water and wastewater systems. Unless there’s a water main break or a septic system failure, people don’t tend to think much about them.

In my eight years working in EPA’s onsite wastewater treatment (aka septic) program, I’ve spent a good deal of time thinking about our nation’s water infrastructure. I’ve also learned a great deal about this country’s reliance septic systems, which treat wastewater onsite instead of sending it down the sewer to a treatment plant. About a quarter of U.S. households and a third of all new construction – both domestic and commercial – rely on these kinds of systems.

Today’s onsite systems aren’t like the one I grew up on. These advanced treatment technologies are able to treat wastewater to levels that protect the environment similar to traditional sewer systems. They’re also able to treat large volumes of wastewater from many homes through the use of cluster systems. As the nation’s population continues to grow, and as cash-strapped rural and small communities look for viable, effective methods to treat wastewater, septic systems will continue to play a critical role in our nation’s wastewater infrastructure.

Low-income and rural communities, especially in the South (with 46% of the nation’s septic systems), are particularly disadvantaged in terms of access to adequate wastewater treatment. This creates an environmental justice concern.
For homes with septic systems, proper septic system maintenance is vital to protecting public health and keeping water clean. When homeowners don’t maintain their septic systems, it can lead to system back-ups and overflows. That can mean costly repairs, polluted local waterways, and risks to public health and the environment.

To help raise awareness about the need to properly care for septic systems, and to encourage homeowners to do their part, this week we’re hosting the first SepticSmart Week, September 23-27. By taking small steps to maintain home septic systems, homeowners not only help keep their communities safe, but can save money and protect property values.

About the author: Maureen Tooke is an Environmental Protection Specialist who works in the Office of Wastewater Management at EPA headquarters in Washington, D.C. She lives across the Potomac River in Arlington, Virginia, where she kayaks and bikes regularly.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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6 Responses leave one →
  1. Arman.- permalink
    September 27, 2013

    Septic System And The Culture…….

    There are the people who don’t understand to use water for drink,cook and bath-wash-toilet,because their home haven’t its,spread worldwide.
    For changing it, we need acculturation process and need the times…..
    Congratulations EPA’s septic system.-

  2. Jay Cwanek permalink
    September 27, 2013

    Uh, I have a septic system. We CHOSE to buy and moved from a property on a public sewer. Everyone CHOOSES where to live, and NO ONE in America is so economically constrained they can’t move over to the next city, county or state. So, where is the “environmental justice concern”? Ludicrous.

  3. Steve Ruza permalink
    October 8, 2013

    It seems like it would be a good idea for people who have sepetics to learn more about how to care for them. Especially with everybody using those cottonell baby butt wipes now and flushing them down the drain. Our old septic guy used to take the top of the sludge off the “stuff” in the tank and put it aside and save it. Then after pumping he would put it back in the tank. He said it had all the bacteria to help breakdown “stuff”. We had 7 in our house and only needed it pumped every 7 years or so.

  4. CKrege permalink
    October 14, 2013

    Instead of a SepticSmart week, maybe the nation should move toward a fully modern wastewater infrastructure. However, issues like this need to be brought to the public’s attention before drastic policy changes can happen. For example, during the shutdown the House only passed a bill to fund Head Start after many constituents cried out in support for it. So, it makes sense that water systems are under-appreciated. I agree that you can’t really see them! I had never thought about water systems much myself until I worked in Australia for a couple of months. My boss called me a “Seppo”(short for septic), the slang term for a person from the United States. Australians think that onsite wastewater treatment systems are disgusting. I would agree.

  5. wastewater permalink
    October 27, 2013

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  6. wastewater Australia tanks permalink
    March 30, 2014

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