What you put down your toilet can affect the environment
Submitted by the Erie County Department of Health
The third week of September is SepticSmart Week, and the Erie County Department of Health and the Erie County Department of Environment and Planning (ECDEP) are using this opportunity to raise awareness about the importance of properly maintaining and caring for septic systems.
“Water quality affects every living thing, and we want to encourage all measures to protect the health of our largest local body of water, Lake Erie,” ECDEP Commissioner Daniel Castle said. “The rivers and streams that flow into Lake Erie get their start in the backyards of homes with septic systems. Working with homeowners, we can make sure to preserve freshwater sources and protect public health by preventing water contamination.”
ECDEP is coordinating a free virtual event on how to be “Septic Smart for Lake Erie” from 7-8 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 27. Learn how to care for your septic system properly. Participants will be eligible to win door prizes and receive a $30 rebate for a septic tank pump-out. Register at www.erie.gov/septicsmart.
Septic systems, or on-site wastewater treatment systems, are designed to manage wastewater from homes or properties that are not connected to a public sewer system. Approximately one in five households in the United States depend on septic systems to treat their wastewater – including more than 47,000 properties in Erie County. These systems treat wastewater from sinks, toilets, laundry and showers through biological and mechanical processes that typically involve solids settling in an underground tank. The processes end with the wastewater portion being treated in a soil drain field (also called a leach field) and sometimes a sand filter in the yard.
What does my toilet have to do with the environment?
Without a functioning septic system, harmful nutrients, viruses and bacteria can contaminate the water bodies near your home or business. A well-functioning system can help remove these components from the ground, but an overfilled tank or a clog in the drain field can lead to the accumulation of waste in nearby waterways, foul-smelling odors, and contamination of drinking water sources. High bacteria counts can also cause beach closures.
The ECDOH Division of Environmental Health receives between 1,100 and 1,500 property transfers or septic system replacement applications each year. The ECDOH website has additional information about septic systems for new construction, installation, repairs/replacements and inspections.
What goes down a toilet or household drains can harm your septic system. Only flush human waste and septic-safe toilet paper. Do not flush any of the following:
√ Cooking grease or oil
√ Paper towels
√ Hygiene products: baby wipes or wet wipes, even if they say “flushable”; menstrual products
√ Coffee grounds
√ Medications or pills: dispose of at a medication disposal kiosk (thepointny.org)
√ Household chemicals like gasoline, oil, pesticides, antifreeze, and paint or paint thinners
Regular septic system maintenance can prevent it from becoming overfilled and eventually clogging the drain field. Some signs that your system might have a problem include:
√ Pooling water
√ Overly healthy-looking lawn directly over the drain field
√ Slow drains or toilets
√ Unpleasant odors
√ Sewage back-up
ECDOH produced a short video, “To Flush or Not to Flush,” describing what can and what cannot be flushed down toilets with septic systems: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4WeV0qt652w.
√ Erie County Department of Health (ECDOH), onsite wastewater treatment system: https://www2.erie.gov/health/index.php?q=onsite-wastewater-treatment-system
√ Erie County, SepticSmart: https://www4.erie.gov/septicsmart/maintenance
√ U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, septic system FAQs: https://www.epa.gov/septic/frequent-questions-septic-systems