Throughout Michigan and in the Saginaw Bay region, failing septic systems are often identified as a potential source of pollution that contributes to public and environmental health concerns. However, information is often lacking to determine the extent to which septic systems are impacting the environment.

Septic tankWhen properly designed, sited, installed, and maintained, septic systems provide cost-effective and environmentally safe disposal of wastewater. Similar to other household infrastructure, like a furnace or roof, septic systems have an expected service life and require periodic maintenance. Many septic systems are designed to operate for approximately 30 years, depending on individual use and upkeep. When septic systems outlive their useful service life, they may no longer effectively treat wastewater and can discharge sewage into the environment.

While the impact of an individual failing septic system may seem marginal, in regions where many systems fail, the cumulative effect can be significant. These systems can contribute pathogens into the environment that cause diseases such as giardia, hepatitis, and cholera (MDEQ 2018). When pollution levels are too high, the result can be closing beaches and rivers to recreational access.