Septic System Information and Care
Florida Department of Health in Columbia County Environmental Health
135 NE Hernando Ave
Lake City, FL 32055
Septic System Information
A septic system, properly installed and maintainedis a good way to treat wastewater and to protect groundwater quality when municipal sewer service is not available. A typical septic system consists of two major parts, the septic tank and drainfield.
Waste from toilets, sinks, washing machines and showers enters the septic tank, which is a holding tank generally made of pre-cast concrete or fiberglass and is sized according to the estimated wastewater flow from a given-sized residence or business.
The septic tank separates the wastewater into three general components -- solids or "sludge", floatables or the "scum layer", and a zone of relatively clear water. Anaerobic bacteria (able to live in an oxygen-free environment) perform the first treatment of the wastewater, generating gas that is vented through the vent stack of the building's plumbing, and breaking the solids into a liquid form. The oxygen-free conditions inside the septic tank also deactivate some of the disease germs that are found in sewage.
From the septic tank, the liquid portion of the wastewater flows into the drainfield, which is generally a series of perforated pipes or slotted panels that are usually surrounded by a layer of gravel, tire chips, or other lightweight materials such as styrofoam pieces. The drainfield provides secondary treatment of the sewage by allowing aerobic (oxygen-using) bacteria to continue deactivating the disease germs that remain in the wastewater. The drainfield also provides filtration of the wastewater as gravity draws the water downwards through the soil layers. In addition, evaporation of water occurs through the layer of soil covering the drainfield.
In some areas where soil types such as clay layers or bedrock exist, or in areas where there is a shallow seasonal high water table, septic systems must be elevated above the ground surface ("mounded" systems). This ensures the wastewater has sufficient permeable or unsaturated soil in order to provide adequate filtration before the remaining wastewater reaches the groundwater table and the underlying aquifer.
In other areas, such as flood zones near rivers or other bodies of water, traditional septic systems may not be sufficient to treat the wastewater. In these cases, advanced wastewater treatment systems that "aerate" or add oxygen to the wastewater may be required. Other advanced wastewater treatment systems may have chlorinating chambers or peat moss-based filtration chambers which neutralize the disease germs before they can reach groundwater levels.
Septic System Care
Don't flush cigarette butts, tampons, condoms or other indigestible materials down the toilets or sinks. These will clog the outlet filter or drainfield.
Don't pour grease down the drain -- grease cannot be digested by the septic system and will clog it! Instead, pour the grease into an empty can or bottle and discard with the trash.
Don't use excessive amounts of bleach or other cleaning products -- too much will interfere with the bacterial action inside the septic tank. Small amounts of household bleach or laundry detergent can be used without ill effects.
Don't do several loads of laundry back-to-back -- instead, space your wash loads out over the week so that the septic system does not have to process so much water (a typical wash load uses between 60 - 90 gallons per load!).
Don't plant trees or shrubbery near or over your drainfield. Roots from trees and plants will grow into the drainlines and clog them.
Don't allow vehicles to drive over any part of your septic system. Traffic over your drainfield can crush the pipes or pack down the soil around them, and driving over the septic tank can cause the tank's lid to crack or break apart!
Do conserve water -- the less water you use, the less wastewater your septic system will have to process! Look into installing water-conserving showerheads, toilets or other water-saving features.
Do have your septic tank pumped out periodically. The Florida Department of Health recommends that septic tanks be pumped out every four to five years to reduce accumulations of sludge in the tank.
Do check your plumbing for leaks on a regular basis. A leaking toilet flapper valve can let hundreds of gallons of wasted water into your septic system, causing stoppages and overloaded drainfields.
Do consult your local health department for more information. Our Environmental Health Professionals can provide you with many tips and information to help your septic system last as long as possible.
For more information about the function of traditional or advanced wastewater treatment systems, or for any questions about caring for your septic system, contact us at (386) 758-1058.