[StBernard] News Release (Region 6): EPA Provides Septic System Information

Westley Annis Westley at da-parish.com
Wed Sep 3 23:05:19 EDT 2008

EPA Provides Septic System Information

(Dallas, Texas - September 3, 2008) Homeowners with septic systems need to
take special precautions and actions in the aftermath of hurricanes. What
follows is a "how to" concerning the steps homeowners should take to ensure
a safe return to normal septic system operation. Septic systems should not
be used immediately after floods.

Drain fields will not work until underground water has receded. Septic lines
may have broken during the flood.

If the ground area around your septic system is saturated, it is recommended
that you do not pump the tank. Pumping the tank would be only a temporary
solution. Under worst conditions, pumping it out could cause the tank to
try to float out of the ground and may damage the inlet and outlet pipes.
The best solution is to plug all drains in the basement and drastically
reduce water use in the house.

Do not use the sewage system until water in the soil absorption field is
lower than the water level around the house.

Have your septic tank professionally inspected and serviced if you suspect
damage. Signs of damage include settling or an inability to accept water.
Most septic tanks are not damaged by flooding since they are below ground
and completely covered. However, septic tanks and pump chambers can fill
with silt and debris, and must be professionally cleaned. If the soil
absorption field is clogged with silt, a new system may have to be

Only trained specialists should clean or repair septic tanks because tanks
may contain dangerous gases. Contact your health department for a list of
septic system contractors who work in your area.

If sewage has backed up into the basement, clean the area and disinfect the
floor. Use a chlorine solution of a half cup of chlorine bleach to each
gallon of water to disinfect the area thoroughly.

Pump the septic system as soon as possible after the flood. Be sure to pump
both the tank and lift station. This will remove silt and debris that may
have washed into the system. Do not pump the tank during flooded or
saturated drainfield conditions. At best, pumping the tank is only a
temporary solution. Under worst conditions, pumping it out could cause the
tank to try to float out of the ground and may damage the inlet and outlet

Do not compact the soil over the soil absorption field by driving or
operating equipment in the area. Saturated soil is especially susceptible to
compaction, which can reduce the soil absorption field's ability to treat
wastewater and lead to system failure.

Examine all electrical connections for damage before restoring electricity.

Be sure the septic tank's manhole cover is secure and that inspection ports
have not been blocked or damaged.

Check the vegetation over your septic tank and soil absorption field. Repair
erosion damage and sod or reseed areas as necessary to provide turf grass

Whenever the water table is high or your sewage system is threatened by
flooding there is a risk that sewage will back up into your home. The only
way to prevent this backup is to relieve pressure on the system by using it

Here are some suggestions offered by experts for homeowners whose septic
systems were flooded:

* Use common sense. If possible, don't use the system if the soil is
saturated and flooded. The wastewater will not be treated and will become a
source of pollution. Conserve water as much as possible while the system
restores itself and the water table fails.

* Prevent silt from entering septic systems that have pump chambers. When
the pump chambers are flooded, silt has a tendency to settle in the chambers
and will clog the drainfield if it is not removed.

* Do not open the septic tank for pumping while the soil is still
saturated. Mud and silt may enter the tank and end up in the drainfield.
Furthermore, pumping out a tank that is in saturated soil may cause it to
"pop out" of the ground. (Likewise, recently installed systems may "pop out"
of the ground more readily than older systems because the soil has not had
enough time to settle and compact.)

* Do not dig into the tank or drainfield area while the soil is still wet
or flooded. Try to avoid any work on or around the disposal field with heavy
machinery while the soil is still wet. These activities will ruin the soil

Flooding of the septic tank will have lifted the floating crust of fats and
grease in the septic tank. Some of this scum may have floated and/or
partially plugged the outlet tee. If the septic system backs up into the
house check the tank first for outlet blockage. Clean up any floodwater in
the house without dumping it into the sink or toilet and allow enough time
for the water to recede. Floodwaters from the house that are passed through
or pumped through the septic tank will cause higher flows through the
system. This may cause solids to transfer from the septic tank to the
drainfield and will cause clogging.

Locate any electrical or mechanical devices the system may have that could
be flooded to avoid contact with them until they are dry and clean.

Aerobic plants, upflow filters, trickling filters, and other media filters
have a tendency to clog due to mud and sediment. These systems will need to
be washed and raked.

For more information, visit the Louisiana Drinking Water Program
http://www.oph.dhh.state.la.us <http://www.oph.dhh.state.la.us/> , the
National Groundwater Information Center at http://www.groundwatersystems.com
<http://www.groundwatersystems.com/> , and the National Environmental
Services Center at http://www.nesc.wvu.edu/. Contact your local health
department for additional advice and assistance.

To learn more about Hurricane Gustav activities, please visit

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