Most wastewater processes are based on simply biology. You put organic waste down the drain, and bacteria ("bugs") does the rest. Pretty simple, right?
Most smaller systems use either an "in tank" or "in-plant" process, or some type of ground disposal field, whereby the effluent is sent to some type of drain field or treatment bed.
The smaller "in tank" processes that most people are familiar with are aerobic treatment units, called ATU's. Often, these units have spray heads that spray out the effluent by-product (mostly water) after it has gone through the treatment system. Many people are familiar with the fact that these units have some type of air-compressor.
Larger commercial systems still utilize a biological process, just on a much larger scale. But the bacteria that are cultured in the system are still the work-horses, and do all of the work. Depending on the level of treatment required, the finished product is often cleaner than lake water. The large process plants generally require a State Permit, and extensive permit review and engineering. The level of scrutiny further increases if the process is desired to directly discharge the byproduct into the surface waters of the State.
Did you know that both of the above process essentially work the same? The "conventional" septic system that most people are aware of actually uses bacteria to dispose of the waste, too. It is simply in the soil. The air in the soil helps the bacteria "breathe", and the bacteria digest the food particles in the sewage.
The ATU system has the same bacteria, but it is in the tank. The sewage effluent is held in a tank, and tiny air bubbles are sent through it. This air speeds up the natural digestion that would occur in the ground, and the bacteria digest the effluent with a byproduct so clean you can spray it on the ground (after disinfection).
So the process is basically simple biology.
So what happens if you upset this process, with such things as not giving the "bugs" air, food, or water? What happens if you dump chemicals on them? What happens if you smother them with grease? Well, the bugs don't like that and they either die, or eat very slowly, giving only partial treatment to the effluent coming into their area. When this happens, the balance of the system is upset and things can get clogged up, all the way from the final disposal area, all the way through the tank and back into the structure.
If you have problems, most often they can be fixed. See our other info pages for more information.
Non-discharge system, 150,000 gpd
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