Septic systems treat and disperse relatively small volumes of wastewater from individual or small numbers of homes and commercial buildings. Septic system regulation is usually a state, tribal, and local responsibility. EPA provides information to homeowners and assistance to state and local governments to improve the management of septic systems to prevent failures that could harm human health and water quality.
Information for Homeowners
If your septic tank failed, or you know someone whose did, you are not alone. As a homeowner, you are responsible
for maintaining your septic system. Proper septic system maintenance will help keep your system from failing and will
help maintain your investment in your home. Failing septic systems can contaminate the ground water that you or
your neighbors drink and can pollute nearby rivers, lakes and coastal waters.
Ten simple steps you can take to keep your septic system working properly.
A typical septic system has four main components: a pipe from the home, a septic tank, a drainfield, and the soil.
Microbes in the soil digest or remove most contaminants from wastewater before it eventually reaches groundwater.
The septic tank is a buried, watertight container typically made of concrete, fiberglass, or polyethylene. It holds the
wastewater long enough to allow solids to settle out (forming sludge) and oil and grease to float to the surface (as
scum). It also allows partial decomposition of the solid materials. Compartments and a T-shaped outlet in the septic
tank prevent the sludge and scum from leaving the tank and traveling into the drainfield area. Screens are also
recommended to keep solids from entering the drainfield. The wastewater exits the septic tank and is discharged
into the drainfield for further treatment by the soil. Microorganisms in the soil provide final treatment by removing
harmful bacteria, viruses, and nutrients.
Your septic system is your responsibility!
Did you know that as a homeowner you’re responsible for maintaining your septic system? Did you know that
maintaining your septic system protects your investment in your home? Did you know that you should periodically
inspect your system and pump out your septic tank? If properly designed, constructed, and maintained, your septic
system can provide long-term, effective treatment of household wastewater. If your septic system isn’t maintained,
you might need to replace it, costing you thousands of dollars. A malfunctioning system can contaminate
groundwater that might be a source of drinking water. And if you sell your home, your septic system must be in good
A key reason to maintain your septic system is to save money! Failing septic systems are expensive to repair or replace, and poor maintenance is often the culprit. Having your septic system inspected (at least every 3 years) is a bargain when you consider the cost of replacing the entire system. Your system will need pumping every 3 to 5 years, depending on how many people live in the house and the size of the system. An unusable septic system or one in disrepair will lower your property’s value and could pose a legal liability. Other good reasons for safe treatment of sewage include preventing the spread of infection an disease and protecting water resources. Typical pollutants in household wastewater are nitrogen phosphorus, and disease-causing bacteria and viruses. Nitrogen and phosphorus are aquati plant nutrients that can cause unsightly algae blooms. Excessive nitrate-nitrogen in drinking wate can cause pregnancy complications, as well as methemoglobinemia (also known as blue baby syndrome) in infancy. Pathogens can cause communicable diseases through direct or indirect body contact or ingestion of contaminated water or shellfish. If a septic system is working properly, it will effectively remove most of these pollutants.