by Russell Derickson, Extension water
and natural resources specialist, South Dakota State University Ag Engineering
If your on-site wastewater treatment
system develops problems or fails, don't be so anxious to find a solution that
you'll try any product that comes along. Many people with septic systems are
confused by magazine and TV advertisements, as well as telephone solicitations,
for onsite system additives. On-site system additives are not needed and are not
recommended by the South Dakota Cooperative Extension Service. To understand why
you do not need on-site system additives, evaluate the product by answering the
Are product claims based on
reputable lab tests or are they simply testimonials of past users?
Will the product cause damage to
other parts of the wastewater treatment system?
Will the product cause a pollution
problem in ground water or the environment?
On-site system additives can be
classified into two general categories: they are either safe, or they are
effective. The effective additives are not safe, and the safe additives are not
effective. Unsafe additives travel to the treatment field and cause groundwater
Some additive companies claim that
on-site system problems are caused by household cleaners and that their product
will re-supply needed bacteria populations. Their products contain yeasts or
bacteria to stimulate microorganism action in the septic tank.
Normal or average use of household
cleaning chemicals will not cause problems with on-site systems. Every time the
toilet is flushed or the sink is drained, bacteria are naturally re-supplied to
the septic tank. If bacterial activity in the septic tank is low, it is because
the homeowner has added a detrimental product to the wastewater stream.
Other companies sell cleaners or
degreasers as additives that agitate septic tanks and cause scum and sludge to
enter soil treatment fields.
They claim that their products will
eliminate the need for septic tank pumping by re-suspending solids and flushing
them into the treatment fields. Once in the treatment field, the solids plug
soil pores. Plugged soil pores cause a reduction in the treatment field's
capacity and efficiency.
Septic tanks are specifically designed
to trap and prevent solids and floating materials from entering soil treatment
The best advice for homeowners.:
Do not purchase septic system
Pump septic tanks on a regular 3- to