Preventing groundwater pollution from failing septic systems should be a priority for every community. Contamination of the groundwater source can lead to the pollution of local wells, streams, lakes, and ponds, exposing family, friends, and neighbors to waterborne diseases and other serious health risks.
When a septic system fails, inadequately treated domestic waste can reach the groundwater. Bacteria and viruses from human waste can cause dysentery, hepatitis, and typhoid fever. Many serious outbreaks of these diseases have been caused by contaminated drinking water.
Nitrate and phosphate, also found in domestic wastewater, can cause excessive algae growth in lakes and streams called algae blooms. These blooms cause aesthetic problems and impair other aquatic life. Nitrate is also the cause of methemoglobinemia, or blue baby syndrome, a condition that, prevents the normal uptake of oxygen in the blood of young babies. In addition, hazardous household chemicals like paints, varnishes, waste oils, and pesticides pollute the groundwater and should never be disposed of through a septic system. They can also kill the microorganisms in the system that break down the waste. See the list of DO’s and DON’Ts for septic system owners later in this guide for more about what should and should not be disposed of in a septic tank system.