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Septic Tanks

How the septic system works

Waste material from the house enters the septic tank where:

  • Heavier solids settle to the bottom and form a sludge layer.
  • Lighter wastes such as oil and grease rise to the top and form a scum layer.
  • Between these two layers is liquid wastewater.


When waste enters the tank, bacteria begin to break down the solid materials. This break down reduces solids, but also leaves a residue behind in the tank. As time passes, this residue builds up, and must be removed to prevent it from entering the drainfield and clogging the system. The center liquid layer flows slowly from the tank into the drainfield. Perforated pipes allow the liquid to be equally distributed in a gravel-filled disposal field. Once the liquid reaches the disposal field, it soaks into the soil. The soil then acts as the final filter for treatment of waste received from the septic system.

Signs that your system is failing

  • Sewage backup in drains or toilets.
  • Slow flushing toilets, sinks or drains.
  • Visible liquid on the surface of the ground near the septic system. It may or may not have an odor associated with it.
  • Lush green grass over the drainfield, even during dry weather. Often, this indicates that an excessive amount of liquid from the system is moving up through the soil, instead of downward, as it should. While some upward movement of liquid from the drainfield is good, too much could indicate major problems.
  • Build-up of aquatic weeds or algae in lakes or ponds adjacent to your home. This may indicate that nutrient-rich septic system waste is leaching into the surface water.
  • Unpleasant odors around your house.

What to do if your system is failing

If your system exhibits one or more of the failure indicators, contact the Wayne County Environmental Health Department ((734) 326-4920 )for assistance in assessing the situation. Sometimes the system may be able to be repaired without complete replacement. Sewage contains harmful bacteria, so keep pets and children away from the failure. Limit water use until repairs can be made. If a new system or repairs are needed, a permit is required from Wayne County Environmental Health Department .
(source: Rouge National Wet Weather Demonstration Project)