A failing septic system can be a catastrophic financial event for a homeowner. Repair costs can run over $15,000 and can include everything from pumping the tank to installing a new leach field or a mound system. These costs are almost never covered by insurance. This can be particularly frustrating if the homeowner has already spent hundreds of dollars on septic tank additives for the express purpose of avoiding this very problem.
Every year thousands of people in the U.S. are bilked out of millions of dollars by the sellers of septic tank additives. The additives are purported to aid septic system perform organic waste breakdown when, in fact, they often do just the opposite. Some of these additives are chemicals, containing ingredients similar to those found in over-the-counter drain cleaners. These can not only damage sewer pipes and drains, they can compress the soil of a drain field, preventing it from passing water back to the ground.
Other septic tank additives contain solvents intended to break down grease. The companies that sell them claim they will keep sewer pipes and drains open and reduce odors, but they can destroy the natural bacteria found in the septic tank and drainfield, literally shutting down the very processes that make a septic system work. Another danger resulting from solvent use is ground water contamination. In fact, many states actively ban the use of solvents in septic systems because of this possibility.
The least toxic of the available additives contain bacteria that are supposed to aid the septic system in breaking down solid wastes. Unfortunately, there is no scientific evidence that these types of products work at all. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states on its website that the bacteria needed to make a septic system work are a natural part of incoming waste from any household. There is enough bacteria in human waste to adequately populate a septic tank in order to breakdown some of the organic material. Artificial septic system additives do nothing to aid these organisms in their natural digestive process, and can actually interfere with it, causing septic tank and septic system problems. The EPA advises homeowners not to use additives in their septic systems.
One company selling septic system additives has found itself in hot water. Mary Moore, Christopher Lincoln and Joseph Nouerand, of FBK Products, were found guilty of fraud and conspiracy for selling unnecessary and useless products to unsuspecting homeowners. The company, which marketed home maintenance products, sold its septic additives between March 2009 and October 2010 under the name of Septic Remedy. Employees told potential customers that the product was endorsed by the Food and Drug Administration, the Department of Agriculture and the EPA. They also claimed that use of the product would prevent the customers’ septic tanks from ever needing to be pumped, and that the product was also necessary because of government-mandated changes in toilet paper manufacturing guidelines.
Septic systems have a time tested design that works fairly efficiently. They are relatively inexpensive, have no moving parts and are, for the most part, self-maintaining. Homeowners would do well to heed the warnings of the EPA – and many other governmental organizations – and avoid the use of septic system additives. They will save money and their septic systems will run better.