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septic tank

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A septic tank is a large container designed to be integrated into a septic system, whose purpose is to store sewage waste while it settles. Septic systems are currently used by nearly a quarter of the population of the United States and septic tanks represent one of the two major components of such a system, the other being the septic drain field (or leach field).

In a standard septic system design, the septic tank is connected to a waste-water pipe at one end and a leech field at the other end. The term ‘septic’ refers to the presence of anaerobic bacteria that grows inside the tank and that slowly decomposes waste material, greatly reducing its size.

Periodic septic tank maintenance is usually required to remove the final solid products of bacterial activity, which cannot be processed further. If they are not removed, these solids gradually deposit inside the tank and reduce its efficiency. In many jurisdictions, maintenance is demanded by law, but it is rarely enforced. However, failure to clean a septic tank can cause damage to other elements of the septic system and eventually call for very expensive repairs.

The frequency of maintenance operations relies heavily on the amount of waste produced by a household, relative to the volume of the tank itself. Some septic systems require cleaning every few years, while others may function properly for 10 to 20 years before any maintenance is required. A well-designed and maintained septic tank can last for as long as 50 years in some cases.

One of the many potential problems that can appear when using a septic system is the development of a biofilm inside the pipes of the drainage field. This can eventually cause foul odors or even reduced efficiency of the pipes.

Excessive dumping of various types of waste products (grease or cooking oils) can clog the drains, while the disposal of non-biodegradable waste materials (like sanitary products, cigarette buds, plastic or metal) can rapidly fill or clog a septic tank. These types of products should be disposed of in a different manner, such as by recycling them.

Different types of chemicals can also adversely affect the proficiency of a septic system. Herbicides, bleaches, detergents, solvents and paints can generate unwanted chemical reactions inside the tank, or even corrode the entire system’s components over time.

You’ll find bloggers talking about septic tanks at sites like purdue.edu and extension.psu.edu.

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