History of Septic Tanks
Waste can cause and spread disease, as well as ruin land, therefore proper disposal is critical for any civilization. The bigger the population, the more waste, and the greater a need for proper disposal. Thus, wastewater systems have been around since the earliest civilizations.
Cities in ancient India and ancient Rome employed advanced systems of pipes and drains to remove wastewater and deposit it back into the earth. These early septic systems laid the groundwork for innovations to come; it wasn’t until the late 1800s that we saw the next big step in sewage management: the septic tank.
What is a septic tank? Septic tanks are usually made of concrete, fiberglass, or polyethylene, and are buried underground. As part of a septic system, tanks help safely dispose of wastewater through technology and natural decomposition processes. Sewage from your home travels to the underground tank via pipes. In the tank, the sewage separates into three parts: scum at the top (oil and grease), effluent (liquid waste), and solids. The solids decompose within the tank, broken down by bacteria from the wastewater, which allows more water to flow into the drain. The effluent flows out of the septic tank and into a drain field, where it’s spread evenly into the soil and watercourses. Soil and earth serve as natural filters, removing harmful bacteria from the wastewater so as to prevent contamination.
The first modern septic tank was invented in 1860 by Frenchman John Mouras. Mouras made a concrete tank with clay piping: the pipes brought the waste from his home to the tank, and when the sewage filled the tank, it would be piped out to a cesspool. Ten years after he made this prototype, he opened it up to see how it was holding up. To everyone’s surprise, the tank was empty of any solid organic waste! This was enough to get Mouras a patent for his product, and within the next ten years this new septic system was being installed in the United States.
Early septic tanks in the U.S. were built from concrete or steel, and emptied into drainage fields. By the mid-1990s, it became clear that the system needed rethinking. Not only were the old concrete and steel tanks failing due to rust and age, but there were serious concerns regarding drainfield sewage leaching into the groundwater, which could contaminate the drinking water supply.
Producers started using fiberglass, PVC, and precast concrete for the tanks, which--when properly cared for--are more durable and functional. Further, local governments enacted regulations to ensure drainfields were far enough away from groundwater sources in order to prevent contamination. These advancements have helped ensure better and safer water quality.
Today, septic tanks are an affordable, effective, and simple solution for those living in rural communities without access to municipal wastewater treatment systems. Here at SERCAP, we know how important septic systems are to ensuring a healthy community with access to clean drinking water. We provide financial assistance for low-income families in need of septic system repairs or replacing.