Septic Systems

By default many soil scientists have been trained in septic system design.

Originally this took the form of the Environmental Health Specialist an employment position developed by the Department of Health in the 1970’s to fill a void. Prior to this contractors and home-owners installed septic drainfields with common sense approach which sometimes resulted in systems which discharged into streams, wetlands, yards or fields, or into subsurface trenches in the best soil available. There are still many systems built back in those times which function with minimal oversight. Many were built, as an improved alternative to pit privies. I know that many were built with hand dug trenches, and concrete block tanks, “Orangeberg” pipe ( a precursor to pvc made from asphalt and paper fiber), clay tile and gravel bed receiving environments. One advantage with hand dug lines is they were usually in good soil. The disadvantage of these relics were a lack of records describing how and where they were located, and a trial by fire approach to whether they would flow, or continue to function.

Now in 2011 we see a different set of circumstances, the VDH still fields EHS trained to evaluate soils and sites, and design septic systems for residential construction. The services are subsidized, perhaps out of the tradition of public service to control threats to public health in the form of disease organisms and nuisance. The evolution of more sophisticated understanding of the treatment functions served by the soil (soils and wetlands are the original model for most engineered systems); also the decreasing availability of soils suited to wastewater treatment has increased demand for professional who can spend the time and have the training to design systems for sites with more severe limitations.

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