Chemical cleaning products are destroying the ecosystem and your septic tank

A septic tank is typically an underground sewage collection unit where waste from households and small establishments is broken down and decomposed through bacterial activity. This is a space to hold and treat raw sewage through the settling of solids and digestion by anaerobic microbes, and therefore has a natural bio-composition and a presence of several bacteria that do the work of breaking down the waste. These naturally occurring bacteria are responsible for breaking down solid waste so that the liquid waste can flow down and out of the septic tank.

It’s so common (and convenient) to just drain liquid waste of all kinds down the sink, toilet or tub in your home. However, it’s important to consider the damage you could be causing your septic tank by doing this. The health of a septic tank depends on the balance of naturally occurring bacteria. So you must be mindful of what you might be putting into the drain that could damage these microscopic organisms and reverse the composition and balance within your septic tank, thereby affecting the way in which the waste is naturally degraded.

The bacteria in a septic tank is typically capable of decomposing 95% of waste, leaving only 5 percent behind. This is a huge chunk of decomposition, which if compromised can lead to clogging, overflow and the passage of a lot of harmful effluents into the waterways beyond the septic tank. A healthy, balanced and properly functioning septic tank ensures that pathogens are trapped within, not allowing them to be leached out. On the other hand, if the balance of the hardworking organisms in charge of breaking the waste down is skewed, it will not function as well. This may then cause the discharge of unhealthy volumes of improperly treated wastewater in and around the vicinity of the tank. This is one of the primary causes of groundwater contamination and health hazards.

According to UNICEF, one gram of human faeces may contain 10 million viruses, 1 million bacteria, 1,000 parasite cysts and 100 parasite eggs. So every time a septic tank malfunctions, it becomes a potential threat that could release these pathogens into the groundwater. This not only causes pollution to the environment – the soil bed, groundwater as well as rivers and the sea – but also poses a huge health hazard for humans and animals in and around the area. The more a septic tank’s capacity to breakdown sewage is compromised, the greater its potential to cause groundwater contamination. Pathogens – or disease-causing bacteria and virus – are the contaminants typically found untreated wastewater.

Untreated wastewater, with traces of faecal matter, contains high concentrations of pathogens that make it extremely dangerous for human beings in the vicinity of malfunctioning septic tanks. It is, therefore, crucial to ensure that your septic tank maintains a healthy microbial balance and does its job of breaking down and containing the waste to the best possible capacity.

Many of the chemicals and ingredients in household cleaning products such as ammonia, bleach and nonylphenol ethoxylate surfactants and phosphates have been known to cause irreparable harm to the health septic tanks. While these are the same chemicals that ensure you have a spotless and almost fully-disinfected bathroom home and bathroom, they’re the same chemicals that kill the bacteria (in the septic tank where they end up) ruining the necessary balance required to breakdown pathogens.

A majority of septic systems are not designed to help keep groundwater safe from chemicals found in household products from entering it. Some products deemed ‘hazardous household products’ should especially not be disposed of in a way that allows them to enter the septic system as the chemicals can cause harm to human health and the environment if the products are not used or degraded properly. When these chemicals enter a septic tank in overly large doses or concentrated amounts, they may increase toxicity levels which in turn harm the beneficial bacteria that are working hard to break down the contents. Then, it sets off a domino effect wherein these chemicals continue to flow unbroken-down from the septic tank to the leach field around the neighbourhood, further into the water reserves

Put simply, chemical cleaning solutions are likely destroying your septic tank. This is why it is crucial to build awareness about safe non-hazardous cleaning products as well as to ensure that citizens take care to safely and responsibly disposing of liquid chemical wastes in their homes. The average citizen probably has no idea about the harmful effects of products that he/she believes are good for him. Citizens also have no cognisance of where their sewage waste goes and how every action within the home impacts the biological chain and ecosystem.

At any given time the average household contains an estimated 10 litres of products that could be considered hazardous to the health of human beings coming in contact with them, as well as the surrounding environment. Strong cleansers, bleaching agents, disinfectants, paints, when poured into the drain end up putting a strain on the wastewater treatment facilities that are designed to treat predominantly organic waste. Hazardous chemical components like these often go unprocessed, eventually to be released back into local waterways leading to the sea, groundwater, soil and local ecosystems.

This can cause havoc in the long run, if it goes unchecked.

A septic tank is an essential first step in the efficient and effective means of treating wastewater generated in every one of our homes and offices. So it is well worth the effort to invest in safe cleaning products, read labels to ensure everything that goes down the drain is septic-tank safe as well as inform oneself about the impact that household activities like cleaning can have on the environment.

Post by Khushboo Shroff