Optimal Steps to Take Toward Proper Drainfield Maintenance

It’s no secret to septic industry professionals that septic tanks can be hazardous. Between noxious gases collecting in the top of the tank, and tank contents, themselves, posing a health hazard, hiring a licensed septic service technician is one of the few steps toward maintaining a septic system. But there are preventative measures and steps that can be taken to ward off problems before they even start.

The drainfield, or leachfield, performs the task of accepting and processing wastewater, or effluent, from the septic tank before it returns to natural aquifers below the earth’s surface. All systems rely on the ability of the drainfield soil to absorb water. When the drainfield stops absorbing water, huge problems can result.

In past history, a drainfield was gravity fed. It typically consisted of several gravel-filled trenches with perforated drainpipe buried just below the surface of the gravel running the length of the trenches. The effluent is distributed, usually through a distribution box, to the various lateral drainpipes exiting through the perforations into the surrounding gravel bed. Secondary processing begins in these beds as the effluent fills the trench, then seeps through the biomat and into the surrounding soil. There are many other configurations commonly in use.

Infiltrator® System’s Chambers are a more recent technology introduced over twenty years ago. Infiltrator chambers are hollow structures that attach end-to-end, and Infiltrator Systems Inc (ISI), located in Old Saybrook, Connecticut, is a leading manufacturer of the plastic drainfield chambers. They are installed in trenches or beds without gravel. The entire bottom of the trench is open for unobstructed infiltration of water, and the large storage volume within the hollow chambers allows for peak flows of effluent from the home. The chambers also allow for lateral leaching of effluent into the soil through sidewall louvers. ISI’s goal is to protect public health, conserve the earth’s natural resources through improved water quality, and their technology is approved for use in all 50 states plus 10 provinces in Canada. For more information on ISI and the technology that they use, visit www.infiltratorsystems.com.

Mound systems are another alternative that can be used on problem sites. In a mound system, septic tank effluent is delivered to the mound through the use of a pump in a dosing tank placed after the septic tank. The mound itself is carefully designed and constructed above ground using sand that is also carefully selected and placed on top of the natural soil with the goal of helping to treat and dispose of septic tank effluent. The depth of sand is determined by the depth of the natural soil above a limiting layer. A limiting layer can be bedrock, a soil layer with a very low percolation rate, or seasonally high groundwater. The depth of sand added to the depth of the natural soil must equal the minimum treatment depth prescribed by a local authority.

There is also the option of going a more natural route toward restoring a failed drainfield. Using additives is believed to not solve problems in a home septic system, as they can oftentimes eat and destroy the very bacteria needed to help a drainfield work properly. A common additive used, for instance, is yeast cakes, but studies have shown that yeast does very little toward helping a septic system work properly, let alone helping it to work any better. Organic Products Company (OPC) of Groveland, Florida uses natural deposits of humates and humic acids to control odors and reduce suspended solids in wastewater. The company’s OrganicPro Bio TEN, which is part of their Bio Series product line, is a liquid formula specifically targeted for residential septic system use. Bio TEN has active bacterias that naturally digests difficult to control compounds found in wastewater. For more information on OPC and their Bio Series visit www.organicpro.com.

In any drainfield, the buildup of sulfides is a naturally occurring process, and excess buildup is one of the main reasons for drainfield failure. These sulfides decrease the porosity of the biomat, clog the stone soil interface, and scavenge available oxygen in the drainfield. Arcan Enterprises, Inc., a Clarksville, Tennessee company, employs Septic-Scrub, which reacts naturally with sulfide buildup in drainfields. Septic-Scrub oxidizes these sulfides and releases oxygen at the same time. This helps increase the percolation rate of the system. Oxidization of these sulfides also helps convert the drainfield back into aerobic conditions so that the more efficient aerobic bacteria become the more important in the operation of the drainfield. For more information on Septic Scrub, visit www.arcan.com.

These restoration methods cannot solve all problems associated with drainfield failure. However, proper installation and utilizing innovative, state of the art technology and proper, all natural additives, can help maintain a septic system and give it proper operating longevity. And if all else fails, you’ve got that highly trained septic industry technician all lined up and on speed dial.

Story by Megan McClure

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