Instead of city sewer, people who live in rural areas or outside of city limits have what is called a septic system. A septic system consists of four parts: the septic tank, drainfield, soil and/or gravel beneath the drainfield, and the biomat. When liquids and solids enter the tank from the home, solids sink to the bottom while fats, grease, and other liquids float on top. From the tank, only the liquids travel through an outlet pipe which is connected to the drainfield. The job of the drainfield is to properly discharge liquid sewage to the soil and/or the gravel layer beneath to begin the filtration process. When liquid sewage is discharged from the drainfield, it drains into layers of soil and/or gravel that filters out some of the harmful substances before reaching the biomat. The biomat is where most of the filtration of bacteria, viruses, and pollutants occurs. This is all made possible by helpful bacteria that filters these harmful substances before reaching the soil.
However, if a septic system is not properly cared for, the homeowner will begin to experience several problems. If a septic system is not pumped by a professional every few years, solids will accumulate in the tank and overflow, killing helpful bacteria in the biomat. When the tank overflows, this will also cause raw sewage to be present in the yard as well as back up into the home. This not only poses many health risks to the homeowner, but also can cause environmental damage if the tank is close to a river or stream.
For any additional information or concerns about a possible failing system, homeowners should contact their local environmental health department.