Septic system Safety

By Sara Heger and Ken Olson

Properly designed, installed, operated and maintained, septic systems provide economical and effective sewage treatment. When treating sewage, the tank contains very low levels of oxygen. Hydrogen sulfide, methane, carbon dioxide and other life-threatening gases are also present. Tanks have 'manholes' to be used only when cleaning and inspecting from the outside.

The following are safety issues with septic systems.

  • Never use electrical lights, appliances or tools in or close to water or wet ground near the septic tank or drainfield. This can result in electrical shock or explosion.
  • Do not smoke near septic tank openings. Combustible gases could be present and cause an explosion.
  • Contact a plumber or other qualified person if you smell ‘sewer gases’. They can identify the source and correct it immediately. If the gas is very strong, evacuate the building until the problem is corrected and the gases are removed.
  • Never go down into a septic tank.

The sewage treatment process uses many beneficial microorganisms, like bacteria, in the treatment process. However, the tank also contains harmful bacteria, viruses, and disease causing organisms. Liquid and solid contents of the septic system are capable of causing infectious diseases.

After working on any part of the septic system:

  • Wash hands thoroughly.
  • Wash hands before eating, drinking or smoking.
  • Change clothes before entering homes, food stores, restaurants, etc.

Because sewage is corrosive, always be very careful around the tank and its components. Keep vehicles and other heavy equipment away from the septic system and drainfield. Also, remember to keep children and other spectators away from the septic system when it is being worked on. Having a trained, licensed and bonded professional work on your septic system is the safest way of having repairs performed.

You should have your septic tank pumped and the system inspected every 3 years or more frequently. 

For more information, call your local Extension office.