Septic Systems Failures and Forever Chemicals

David Palmerton’s paper discusses the impact of septic systems on our groundwater. Experts have recognized these systems as potential groundwater pollution sources since the 1980s. The USEPA’s 1984 report highlighted contaminants like bacteria, viruses, nitrate nitrogen, organic contaminants, metals, and inorganic substances.

Typical household septic tank.

Since the ’80s, households have contributed a wider range of chemicals to septic systems, including persistent substances like PFAS and PFOA, known for environmental longevity and potential health effects. Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products (PPCP), solvents, petroleum compounds, paints, mercury, and pesticides pose health risks if consumed in impacted groundwater. Additionally, households can inadvertently release heavy metals like lead, cadmium, and copper into septic systems and subsequently into groundwater.

Educating homeowners about their domestic wastewater system is fundamental for effective operation and averting groundwater contamination. A considerable number of system failures and consequent environmental issues arise from homeowners’ limited knowledge about the workings and maintenance of these systems. Education could be obligatory when homeowners obtain a septic system permit, especially those installing new systems. Read on to discover how you can protect your groundwater and communities.


David PalmertonAbout the Author: David Palmerton, Jr., PG, is a Project Director for the Environmental Services Practice. Mr. Palmerton has managed strategic and technical environmental consulting issues for Fortune 100 companies throughout the United States. He has typically provided senior technical oversight, strategic support, and cost control for large multi-component environmental sites. His consulting assignments have included environmental science-based investigations, including soil, sediment, groundwater, and dense non-aqueous phase (DNAPL) investigations and remediation at some of the nation’s most high-profile sites. Mr. Palmerton has over 35 years of experience in environmental consulting in the areas of environmental liability assessment, investigation and remediation. Reach Dave at  or on LinkedIn.