BY JOHN DABBS
Like breathing, the voiding of waste is a natural function common to all mammals. Animals are enraptured by the pheromones in urine and feces and use their highly developed senses to garner all sorts of information. For better or worse (imagine if we could tell whether someone was looking for a relationship merely by sniffing the air!) humans avoid the issue and frequently don’t even examine their own specimens though they are a fundamental measure of health and, unbeknownst to us, sexual condition.
So, we humans flush the toilet with abandon, using it as a general waste disposal system—and give not a thought to what happens, until and unless the toilet backs up. But it is important, especially in this world of burgeoning population and out-of-sight-out-mind mentality. For example, Kristen Keteles, a toxicologist at EPA in Denver, has shown that exposure to synthetic estrogen causes male fish to look like females and is toxic to them. It is into rivers that processed sewage water ultimately flows.
Regulatory standards and, inevitably, the costs, are being raised in sewage treatment systems across the board, including the common individual septic tank system. Back in the day a septic system comprised a simple tank with an inlet and outlet Tee and a leach field that consisted of a trench with large voids to aid in water dissipation. Anything from drums to old tires and rocks served this purpose. The most scientific element was throwing a dead cat into the tank! Something about the gut enzymes triggered the anaerobic reaction. These days they have developed into far more complex affairs and often include pumps to lift or pressurize the effluent, and certainly alarms for the event of a failure. Design is an integral part of the process with the objective of maintaining a healthy environment, and the major considerations are percolation rates of the natural soil and the depth of the water table.
So, good people, the costs and regulations that shock you, are all well considered and are to our global benefit. A new septic system will cost about $25,000 and last, say, 25 years. For a family of four, each defecating once a day at present value it will cost just under a dollar each a day! Next time you flush, strike that pose with your chin on your hand and think about it!