History of Wastewater Management & Septic Tanks

In order to understand how best to handle and evolve our wastewater treatment systems, it’s important to understand the history of wastewater management. We compiled the below article with the help of our owner, Bob Himschoot’s favorite history book: Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems by Burks & Minnis. Sanitation has been one of the key concerns for humans since we began to form tribes. Septic systems as we know them today, despite their simplicity, have been developed over the course of thousands of years of sanitation blunders and innovation. It’s important to understand how more sophisticated wastewater management practices came into play so that we can continue to innovate our systems with this knowledge.

Early wastewater management.
As early as 2000 BC, systems were developed to drain water away from buildings. For many years, waste was filtered to rivers in sewer systems developed by the Romans during the 6th century. This idea of sanitation was abandoned during the Dark and Middle Ages, when citizens threw their waste into the street, which resulted in widespread epidemics. It wasn’t until the Renaissance that cesspools were developed for solid waste to settle out, while liquid waste seeped into the ground. The overflowing cesspools still posed health hazards to those that were exposed to waste.

Indoor plumbing.
During the English Industrial Revolution (during the 1590’s) the first toilet was invented. However, these toilets were largely inefficient and it was not until 1872 that Thomas Crapper & Co. developed a water efficient flushable toilet.

Sewage Treatment.
In 1852, in an attempt to alleviate the hazard of open city sewers, Henry Austin developed a sketch of a multi-tank system that featured gravel as a treatment filtration that kept solid waste from the rivers. In 1895, the term septic system was coined by Donald Cameron, who installed a water tight covered basin to treat sewage by anaerobic decomposition. His patent was among many similar designs that utilized bacteria to break down and separate solid waste from effluent.

By the beginning of the 20th century, the septic tank was more widely adopted in communities. In 1990, the United States Census reported that 24% of households use onsite septic systems. Because of their simple, effective design and smaller expense in comparison to municipal wastewater treatment – the number of septic tanks throughout households is only expected to grow.

At Crews Environmental, we firmly believe in the reduced expense and environmental friendliness of properly maintained septic systems. If your house is serviced by a septic system, visit our FAQ page or call Crews Environmental for a septic tank pump out and system assessment.

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