Understanding the Importance of Nitrogen Reduction in Septic Systems: A Comprehensive Guide

nitrogen-reducing septic systems


In many Northeastern communities, aging septic systems discharge raw wastewater directly into groundwater and residential wells. This waste can contain harmful nitrate nitrogen that pollutes drinking water.


In a watershed that contains conventional septic systems, frequent septic pumpouts can cause nitrogen to build up in groundwater and surface waters. This nitrogen can contribute to harmful nitrate levels in drinking water, lead to shellfish closures, and limit the use of private wells.

The septic system's primary function is to treat wastewater by slowly infiltrating it into groundwater and soil. This treatment removes the bacteria in household waste but does not remove the nitrogen that a large percentage of sewage contains. Without proper treatment, nitrogen can contaminate groundwater, cause problems with nearby public water supplies, and contribute to environmental degradation, including eutrophication, habitat loss, and land conversion.

Innovative alternative nitrogen reduction septic systems with a self-contained process can prevent the pollution of healthy water and local water bodies from septic systems. These systems can be cost-effective when compared to sewering. Sewering requires expensive new septic systems, sewer fees that rise with inflation, and the costs associated with maintaining those systems over 20 years. In contrast, a nitrogen-reducing septic system can be less than half the cost of an ATU or PBTS and require no electricity. In addition, a conventional drain field can be modified with a layer of nitrogen-reducing media.

Commercial Septic System Engineering

A commercial septic system is required when the local public sewer cannot handle the flow of sewage and wastewater from a business or property. This includes restaurants, retail locations, and many other businesses that use water for washing, cooking, and cleaning.

These systems work the same as residential septic systems but are typically larger in size and capacity. They are also more complex and require a thorough site assessment before installation.

Wastewater flows from drain pipes in these structures to a large underground tank, separating it into solid and liquid waste. Solids settle to the tank's bottom, where microbes break them down. The liquid waste (effluent) travels through a drain field of underground pipes surrounded by gravel and soil, where natural processes further break it down.

This process helps to protect groundwater and surface water from contamination. However, if these systems are not sited, designed, constructed, or operated correctly, they can negatively affect ground and surface water quality.

Commercial septic system engineering involves designing, planning, and engineering sewage treatment systems for commercial and industrial facilities. These systems are crucial for managing wastewater and ensuring it is appropriately treated and disposed of to protect the environment and public health.

How It Works

Like water, nitrogen cycles throughout the environment in organic and inorganic forms. It's a common element in the air, soil, plants, and animals and is essential to life. However, excess nitrogen from home septic systems can leach into groundwater or nearby water bodies. These nitrates can result in algae blooms, low dissolved oxygen levels, and loss of critical marine habitats like eelgrass.

Conventional septic system design primarily focuses on removing pathogens from wastewater to prevent human health problems. However, they are not designed to remove nitrogen from wastewater. When septic system effluent reaches the drain field, the nitrate-nitrogen is exposed to sunlight and decomposes rapidly in an anaerobic environment. This rapid decomposition releases nitrous oxides, which are toxic to fish and other aquatic organisms.

The nitrate-nitrogen can also seep through the groundwater and contaminate drinking water. The health risks associated with nitrates are significant: high nitrate concentrations in drinking water have been linked to miscarriages, congenital disabilities, and certain types of cancer.

The good news is that scientists are developing new septic systems that significantly reduce nitrogen in wastewater. These innovative, alternative nitrogen reduction septic systems offer an environmentally friendly, cost-effective solution to the problem of nitrate pollution from home septic systems.


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TAGS:water pollution, sustainability

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