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Soil, land care and environmental research
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Process, performance, and pollution potential: A review of septic tank–soil absorption systems

C. D. Beal A , E. A. Gardner B and N. W. Menzies C
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A School of Land & Food Sciences, University of Queensland and Coastal CRC, Indooroopilly, Qld 4072, Australia.

B Qld Department of Natural Resources, Mines & Energy, and Coastal CRC, Indooroopilly, Qld 4072, Australia.

C School of Land & Food Sciences, University of Queensland, St Lucia, Qld 4073, Australia.

Australian Journal of Soil Research 43(7) 781-802 https://doi.org/10.1071/SR05018
Submitted: 4 February 2005  Accepted: 8 August 2005   Published: 9 November 2005

Abstract

On-site wastewater treatment and dispersal systems (OWTS) are used in non-sewered populated areas in Australia to treat and dispose of household wastewater. The most common OWTS in Australia is the septic tank–soil absorption system (SAS)—which relies on the soil to treat and disperse effluent. The mechanisms governing purification and hydraulic performance of a SAS are complex and have been shown to be highly influenced by the biological zone (biomat) which develops on the soil surface within the trench or bed. Studies suggest that removal mechanisms in the biomat zone, primarily adsorption and filtering, are important processes in the overall purification abilities of a SAS. There is growing concern that poorly functioning OWTS are impacting upon the environment, although to date, only a few investigations have been able to demonstrate pollution of waterways by on-site systems.

In this paper we review some key hydrological and biogeochemical mechanisms in SAS, and the processes leading to hydraulic failure. The nutrient and pathogen removal efficiencies in soil absorption systems are also reviewed, and a critical discussion of the evidence of failure and environmental and public health impacts arising from SAS operation is presented. Future research areas identified from the review include the interactions between hydraulic and treatment mechanisms, and the biomat and sub-biomat zone gas composition and its role in effluent treatment.

Additional keywords: biomat, LTAR, modelling, nutrients, pathogens, on-site systems, wastewater.


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