System failure or malfunction, with the exception of the problems associated with age, can almost always be attributed to deviating from following best practices for installation, operation and maintenance.
Some common causes of system failure are:
1. Hydraulic Overload
More water is entering the system than the soil absorption system or other system components were designed to process. This may be the result of a leaking plumbing fixture, surface water run-off or the septic tank or other components not being watertight.
2. Organic Overload
Organic material in the waste that is too high for a system component or process causing clogging of the infiltrative surface of that component (i.e., sanitary wipes blocking a media filter) or a downstream component (subsurface soil absorption system) resulting in a hydraulic failure (effluent surfacing or backing up).
3. Mechanical Failure
Pumps, floats, blowers or other components can stop working. This results in either hydraulic or organic overload, or both. This is why even a low maintenance system needs to be checked annually.
4. Physical/Structural Component Failure
Pipes breaking, uneven settling of tanks and distribution boxes, collapse of system components. This type of failure often results in hydraulic overload. Make sure no cars or trucks drive over the wastewater treatment components.
5. Change of Use
For example, converting a summer/weekend residence to full time occupancy will frequently stress something other than a peat-based biofilter.
6. Introducing Incompatible Materials
Materials that disrupt the biological, chemical or physical processes within a treatment unit or in the subsurface soil-receiving environment. This includes chemicals and antibiotics. They can kill the good bacteria that are actually cleaning your wastewater.
There are some situations where failure/malfunction can be caused by less obvious events.
Converting from an individual water supply to a public water supply can result in increased water use due to the availability of more water than previously provided by the individual water system. This change can put an increased hydraulic load on the onsite wastewater treatment system and can result in a failure if the system was already operating at its maximum hydraulic load.
Ultimately, all six items are opportunity for failure. The underlying cause for any of the failures are typically a function of improper, or complete lack of, design planning and lack of regular operation and maintenance.
Have you checked your onsite wastewater treatment system lately?
Be aware of the six common causes of wastewater treatment system failure.Check your system annually for proper operation and maintenance needs.Know what should and should not be disposed of in your wastewater treatment system.
Tom Smith is the former director of operations and marketing at Anua. Tom is driving demand for wastewater treatment, water reuse, rainwater harvesting and odor/VOC control solutions. He has a B.A. from Duke University and an MBA from the Fuqua School of Business.