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Dangers of cleaning septic tanks

 
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https://apnews.com/5061680465a347a89d81c6d1c2c5ca38

And, the article also says that since 2014, more than 1800 people in India have died when cleaning septic tanks (or sewers).

 
pollinator
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Interesting problem of the caste system and people ignoring the law that bans the manual [ hand] cleaning of septic tanks.
 
gardener
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Is the cause Methane?
 
gardener
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Yes, I think so. I think it's because methane is heavier than air so it sits down in the bottom. When the first guy passes out, another guy hurries down to help him and passes out too. So when it happens it sometimes gets a few guys at a time.

I haven't heard that manual cleaning of septic tanks is illegal in India. Manual removal of fresh excrement is. But maybe it is, especially since these deaths make news in India every couple of years
 
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Okay, I have never heard of "cleaning" a septic tank.  You pump out the contents when it gets full, but there is no cleaning.  In fact, there is actually a healthy level of bacteria that keeps a septic tank functioning, breaking down solids, so to "clean" it would actually stop it from functioning properly.  Even if it collapsed from old age, it would get filled in with dirt and a new one would be installed nearby.  

I have never seen a residential septic tank that anyone could even fit into, unless it's a remote mansion.  So maybe that article is talking about some kind of municipal tank or something.  

 
steward
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When I was a home-builder, the septic tanks which we installed had manholes as a standard feature. Couldn't buy a septic tank without a built-in manhole.
 
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My parents' septic tank has an opening on the top with a lid that is buried under sod.  The cleanout company ("We're #1 in the #2 business!") would back up a pump truck, stick in a big hose and suck it all out.  He told us that one time he was cleaning out a tank, turned around for a second and when he turned back there was a little girl's shoe on the top of the sludge.  He grabbed her by the foot and pulled her out.  If he had been paying less attention she would be dead.  What a way to go.
 
Lana Weldon
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And, apart from contaminants such as bacteria, viruses, (...), and trichloroethylene, you can also find : toluene, methylene chloride, benzene, chloroform, and other toxic chemicals, pesticides, paint, antifreeze and a lot of other cleaning solvents/products, and also heavy metals when the toxic chemicals corrode the metal pipes.
 
Lana Weldon
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And also present are parasitic worms (and their eggs), cryptosporidium, coliforms. Also septic tank effluents contain BOD (Biochemical Oxygen Demand), is like a food for bacteria, and the more BOD, the more bacterial growth, which in turn consumes oxygen dissolved in the water and could lead to suffocation of fish etc and lower water quality.
Ammonia is also released in the environment, and is toxic to fish, even in quite small amounts.
 
Cristo Balete
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Here's a description of "cleaning" a septic tank from a company in Texas.  It doesn't talk about getting into the tank.  Yes, there is a manhole in order to install it in the first place and attach the lines according to the site specifications.  It can be inspected without getting into it if it's empty through the manhole.  

But "cleaning" is not what people think.  Maybe it's what they want to hear.  It's pumping out and using a high-pressure hose to clear off the surfaces.  The balance of the bacteria is important to maintain proper bacterial breakdown of the contents, so like making yogurt, some of the original bacteria needs to be left in the tank so it can quickly work on breaking down solids.


The septic tank cleaning process involves the following steps:

   Accessing the tank. Cleaning begins by accessing the main septic tank. The lid is first removed and special equipment is used to access the inside of the tank itself.
   Removal of debris. Next, pumping equipment is used to remove all solid debris that has accumulated within the tank. A power hose is also used to dislodge any debris that is stuck along the tank walls.
   Inspection of the tank structure. Your contractor may also inspect the inside/outside of the tank for any structural damage and surface effluent.
 
Lana Weldon
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Here is another site also noting that people worldwide die every year because of septic tanks, because of tank lids collapsing, gases and falling in:

https://www.wte-ltd.co.uk/septic_tank_dangers.html


 
steward
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I love my septic tank.  "Cleaning" it hasn't been needed in 5 years (just an inspection which is always passes).  If you're going down into a tank you're risking your life.  If you're performing normal maintenance on a modern septic tank you'll be just fine.  If it does need to be pumped, the guy with the big truck shows up and sucks it dry (very safely).  
 
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For some truly bizarre reason, the builders (previous owners) of our place didn't install a clean-out port, in ours - which was put in about 2003? 2004? We're in a very rural tourist/resort area, and they were 'snowbirds', and only lived here during the summer months. We're bought it, a year and a half ago, and I've put everything I learned a couple decades ago, from a septic guy to work, because finding and installing a clean-out port would take funds away from other, higher priorities.

So, no petroleum or synthetic chemicals go into it - for toilet cleaning, or septic cleaning (other than the likely unnecessary 'probiotic' tablets hubs found, and insists on using). I use vinegar and baking soda, obviously, no feminine hygiene products go in, toilet paper is kept to a bare minimum (toilet cloths & portable bidets are a real thing, here!). The one thing we have the most difficulty with is his little poem: "If it's brown, flush it down. If it's yellow, let it mellow!" The premise, of course, being that too much water dilutes the bacteria, and overflows the tank, making it work harder than its supposed to, and need pumping out more often. But, letting the 'yellow' get 'mellow' is more than my nose can manage, for more than a go or two. I guess that's where the newer, smaller toilet tanks really help out, with the septic tanks.

Like Mike, I love the septic. If you take care of it - it takes care of you.
 
Mike Haasl
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Carla Burke wrote:"If it's brown, flush it down. If it's yellow, let it mellow!" The premise, of course, being that too much water dilutes the bacteria, and overflows the tank, making it work harder than its supposed to, and need pumping out more often.


I've heard this as a reason to save water but I'm unsure if it really affects the septic biology.  I believe bacteria multiply fairly rapidly.  So if you send some into the drainfield, I think the remaining ones in the tank are likely to repopulate just fine.  I might be more worried about not having enough water in the septic to keep the turds dissolved enough for everything to work well.  

We put plenty of shower water down out septic, along with good soap, turds and pee and our septic has been in good shape for 5+ years.
 
Carla Burke
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Mike Haasl wrote:
I've heard this as a reason to save water but I'm unsure if it really affects the septic biology.  I believe bacteria multiply fairly rapidly.  So if you send some into the drainfield, I think the remaining ones in the tank are likely to repopulate just fine.  I might be more worried about not having enough water in the septic to keep the turds dissolved enough for everything to work well.  

We put plenty of shower water down out septic, along with good soap, turds and pee and our septic has been in good shape for 5+ years.



That's definitely a possibility, but another very likely one is that, in that location, we were on a septic, but had very bleachy, municipal water, too. So, his experiences with that water supply may have contributed to his application of his little poem?  I don't know - but it's never failed me. But, I do so hate letting it 'mellow', lol
 
Mike Haasl
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Good point about city water...  I'm not sure but that could be a very valid reason to limit water into the septic.
 
steward
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I have a septic tank where I live, had one in the previous place I lived for ten years, and also in the house I grew up in. My current home has a new tank installed two years ago. The others have never once have any of them been "cleaned" or pumped. Interestingly, healthy septic tanks full of the good digesting microbes and enzymes never need to be pumped or "cleaned" as solids never build up and cause problems. Often septic problems with sludge build-up and clogged leach fields occur from the use of bleach and other household antibacterial/antimicrobial cleaners that wreak havoc on the microbial life in septic tanks, making them not function as the microbial digestion tanks they are intended to be. Municipal water supplies containing chlorine and chloramines, which are more persistent that regular chlorine, can also hinder the growth and health of septic biology populations. I am on well water now in my current home and I don't ever anticipate having any septic problems due to solids build-up.

I use the Bio-Safe One brand of septic treatment and flush down a monthly septic tank microbe & enzyme packet. It may not be necessary at this point, but at about $6 to keep things working I figure why not. While we are conscious of how we clean our home, mostly using homemade cleaners and things like vinegar, once in a while my wife will use a little bleach in the washing machine.
 
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Carla Burke wrote: But, letting the 'yellow' get 'mellow' is more than my nose can manage, for more than a go or two.


Can you put a gasket under the toilet seat, and one under the lid so the smell stays in?
 
Carla Burke
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Pearl Sutton wrote:

Carla Burke wrote: But, letting the 'yellow' get 'mellow' is more than my nose can manage, for more than a go or two.


Can you put a gasket under the toilet seat, and one under the lid so the smell stays in?


Could we? Possibly. Will we? Not likely.
 
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I have lived with septic systems most of my life.  We are on our 4th one. We have never had to have one pumped or even cleaned.

I love the rural lifestyle and hope that I never have to go back to city living.
 
pollinator
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Our tank has a big enough manhole to enter, so did the one in the house I grew up in, both are old brick tanks, I have been into the one at the house I grew up in, to chase some drain canes that my grandfather had lost (never did get them out) That tank was huge, easily 12ft by 12ft by 6ft. That tank was installed in 1930 it was designed to be emptied by hand as was the 1920's tank I have now. As to never pumping them, that is not an option here, they have legally to be emptied every year by the council mainly so they can inspect them yearly, it is included in our house taxes along with chimney sweeps (every 6 months) and a visit from pest control (yearly).
 
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