Disadvantages of Septic Additives Brattleboro VT
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Disadvantages of Septic Additives
Septic-tank additives are not a way to solve problems with onsite sewage treatment systems and could cause additional problems, according to federal and state officials. "The benefits of consumer products sold as septic-system cleaners, degraders, decomposers, deodorizers, organic digesters or enhancers are not significant or have not been demonstrated conclusively, depending on the product," the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says. "Some of these products can actually interfere with treatment processes, affect biological decomposition of wastes, contribute to system clogging, and contaminate ground water," the federal agency says in its Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems Manual. Breaking down the approximately 1,200 additive products on the market, the EPA says there are three general types of commonly marketed septic-system additives:
Inorganic compounds, usually strong acids or alkalis, are promoted for their ability to open clogged drains. Product ingredients (e.g., sulfuric acid, lye) are similar to those used in popular commercial drain cleaners.
Organic solvents, often chlorinated hydrocarbons, are commonly used as degreasers and marketed for their ability to break down oils and greases.
Biological additives, like bacteria and extracellular enzymes mixed with surfactants or nutrient solutions, which mirror but do not appear to significantly enhance normal biological decomposition processes in the septic tank. Other products containing formaldehyde, paraformaldehyde, quaternary ammonia and zinc sulfate are advertised to control septic odors by killing bacteria. This objective, the EPA says, runs counter to the purpose and function of septic tanks (promoting anaerobic bacterial growth). The agency says if odor is a problem, the source should be investigated, because sewage may be surfacing, a line might have ruptured or another system might be present. Another variety of consumer products is marketed for their ability to remove phosphorus from wastewater. These products are targeted at watershed residents who are experiencing eutrophication (when the water becomes enriched with nutrients, causing out-of-control plant growth) in nearby lakes and streams. Finally, baking soda and other flocculants (small, loosely aggregated additives) are marketed as products that lower the concentration of suspended solids in septic-tank effluent. The EPA says, theoretically, flocculation and the settling of suspended solids would result in cleaner effluent discharges to the subsurface wastewater infiltration systems. However, research has not conclusively demonstrated significant success in this regard, according to the federal agency. Homeowners often hear about these products when people selling additives for septic systems make contact by phone or mail. Ken Olson of the Onsite Sewage Treatment Program at the University of Minnesota Extension Service says, "There are many sales pitches used to encourage homeowners to buy the product. The main pitch is saving money on the cleaning of the septic tank." Olson says there are three primary types of products offered on the market: starters, feeders and cleaners. Starters and feeders are intended to encourage the growth of beneficial bacteria in the septic tank. Septic-tank cleaners are products that claim to clean the pipes and the septic tank. "If they do this by bacterial enzyme action, they may just be a starter or feeder," Olson says. "If they cause the solids in the septic tank to become resuspended in the liquid (effluent), they may be dangerous to the person using them or harmful to the environment as a chemical, or damage the soil-treatment (drainfield) portion of the system. Solids entering the soil-treatment unit will likely do irreparable damage. "In attempting to save the cost of pumping the tank every one to three years ($60 to $150), the homeowner may need to replace the drainfield or mound ($1,000 to $5,000). These "cleaners' could be very costly to the environment and the homeowner. There is no substitute for cleaning or pumping the tank on a regular basis." Often, the salesperson will site a stamp or certificate from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the EPA or some state on the label, implying that it is an endorsement of the product, according to Olson. He says this stamp or insignia only says that there is no dangerous product in the container. "It does not constitute a recommendation, endorsement or guarantee that the product will do as it claims." Olson says the bottom line is: "Use your money to clean your tank - not buy additives."