How to Keep Septic Systems Off Drugs

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There’s an old saying, you are what you eat; and to some degree the same can be said about your septic system. “If you are on drugs, so is your septic system,” says John Buchanan, a professor at the University of Tennessee who was one of the keynote presenters at the annual Minnesota Onsite Wastewater Association (MOWA) convention held in Minneapolis in January. And the problem with some of the drugs and compounds going into septic systems is they are harder to break down than contaminants normally found in human waste.
“Many of our pharmaceuticals are designed to be difficult to biodegrade. In order to be active within our bodies, pharmaceuticals must survive going through the liver—perhaps the most powerful treatment plant devised by nature,” Buchanan said. “The liver has many enzymatic pathways that can breakdown complex compounds for easy removal by the kidneys. If these products are difficult for the liver to breakdown, then they will be difficult for the septic system to breakdown.”
Adding to the problem is the fact that even very small amounts of certain compounds can have significant effects in humans. These trace amounts that can affect human health are often measured in micrograms or parts per billion (ppb), while pollutants most commonly dealt with have human health limits measured in milligrams or parts per million (ppm). For this reason many compounds have been identified as contaminants of emerging concern because until recently we did not have tools available able to detect much less measure them.
Buchanan said this list of compounds include those not only associated with medications such as chemotherapy drugs but a long list of ingredients found in many of today’s consumer products. He mentioned, for example, triclosan, a common ingrediant in some anti-bacterial products. A 2003-2004 study showed that 75 percent of those tested had triclosan detected in their urine.(Minnesota has banned the use of triclosan-containing products in state agencies)
  • Those with septic systems should take extra medications to collection sites, not wash them down the drain or toilet.
  • Don’t pour pesticides down the drain.
  • Minimize the use of antibacterial soaps, cleaners and bleach that stress/kill helpful bacteria in the septic system.
  • Increased system maintenance may be required if a family is taking certain strong drugs such as chemotherapy drugs. The tank may need to be pumped more often to remove solids that are accumulating rapidly due to the loss of beneficial bacteria. If the system becomes too toxic for bacteria, the septic tank could be used as a holding tank during the course of a specific drug treatment and then pumped.
Above information is taken from the website of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency <mpca@public.govdelivery.com>

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