Septic systems are a major source of emerging contaminants in drinking water

A recent study on wastewater treatment shows that septic systems in the United States routinely discharge pharmaceuticals, consumer product chemicals, and other potentially hazardous chemicals into the environment.

The study, published June 15 in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, is the most comprehensive assessment to date of septic systems as important sources of emerging contaminants, raising health concerns since many of these chemicals, once discharged, end up in groundwater and drinking water supplies.

These types of pollutants are frequently detected in rivers, lakes, and drinking water supplies. Many emerging contaminants are hormone disruptors. Their presence in the environment has been associated with the feminization of male fish and reduced fertility in other wildlife. And studies in humans have linked some CECs with thyroid disease, developmental disorders, decreased fertility, and even cancer.

“These are chemicals found in the products we use every day, and eventually they make their way down the drain,” says Laurel Schaider, an environmental chemist at Silent Spring Institute and the study’s lead author. “What’s concerning is that we are potentially re-exposed to these chemicals as mixtures through our drinking water and we have no idea what the health effects from those exposures are.”

Approximately 20 percent of U.S. households rely on septic systems to process their wastewater. In some parts of the country, the number is much higher. In Cape Cod, Massachusetts, for instance, 85 percent of residents rely on septic systems.

Meanwhile, in Albania, according to the annual report of the Water Regulatory Entity (WRE) for 2014, service operators cover with the wastewater service a population of 1.65 million inhabitants or about 64.6% of the total population in their jurisdiction area. The population actually covered with this service lives mainly in urban areas, 83.0% of the total population served, and partly in rural areas with a coverage of 10.9% of the total population served; under these conditions the majority of the population in rural areas use the septic system.

Thus, it is important to connect them with the wastewater treatment systems, and use septic system as little as possible, avoiding environmental pollution, degradation of groundwater and drinking water.

Source: Jurnal Environmental Science & Technology

Published June 27, 2017 06:19 AM


Schaider L.A., K.M. Rodgers, R.A. Rudel. 2017. Review of Organic Wastewater Compound Concentrations and Removal in Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems(link is external)Environmental Science & Technology.

July 19, 2017