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Signs of Failure

Some common signs that the OSSMS may not be functioning are:

Health Hazards Associated with Septage:

When partially treated sewage comes to the ground surface, a hazard exists which can affect any person or pet that comes into contact with it. Listed below are bacteria, viruses, and parasites that are commonly found in septage:




How OSSMS Fail:

Biomat/Age - The average life expectancy of an absorption field is approximately fifteen (15) to twenty (20) years. Over the course of many years, a biomat (which is basically a scum layer) forms which blocks the septage from filtering through the soil.

Solution - Once the biomat forms in the absorption field, the usual course of action is to install a new absorption field. Please contact our office so that an environmentalist can work with you to determine what options may be available for you to consider.

Excessive Water Use - An OSSMS is designed to process a set amount of septage per day. If the household generates volumes of septage in excess of this amount, a failure of the system is likely.

Solution - Reduce the total volume of wastewater that is introduced. Please refer to the Water Usage section for more details.

Excessive Storm Water- Like the previous note, excessive storm water can increase the volume of septage introduced into the system to the point that failure is likely. If downspouts from gutters, swales, birms, or other landscaping feature directs water over the septic tank or absorption field, this water can enter the system. Then, this excess water mixes with the septage, and the system carries it underground. If this volume exceeds the design volume, a failure of the system is likely.

Solution - Direct all storm water away from the septic tank and absorption field. If downspouts from the gutters are directing water over the system, corrugated pipe can be attached to the bottom of the downspout to carry the water past the system before spilling onto the ground surface. If swales, birms, or other landscaping features are directing water over the system, contact a landscaper for site specific recommendations on how to correct the situation.

Electrical- Some OSSMS utilize a pump, aerator, or other electrical component. If this electrical component malfunctions, the system will not operate as designed. In some cases, inclement weather can lead to a malfunction if electrical service is not available for more than twenty-four (24) hours.

Solution - All electrical components should have an audible and visual alarm to alert the resident of a malfunction. If your alarm sounds, contact a service technician to determine the cause of the malfunction and recommend corrective action. You can find more information in the Pumps and Alarms or the Advanced Treatment sections of this site. If you have any questions regarding what components are present at your residence, please contact our office.

Vegetative- There have been many documented cases in which vegetation, which was planted over or near an OSSMS, caused a failure. While our office recommends some vegetation be planted over an absorption field, such as grass, it does not recommend that trees are planted in close proximity. This is especially true for hardwoods. The root system can extend great distances from the trunk of the tree, eventually growing into, and clogging the absorption field. Or, if planted directly over a septic tank, can cause structural damage or make the tank inaccessible for routine service.

Solution - Refrain from planting trees over or in close proximity to the OSSMS components. If the vegetation has been planted, then you may wish to consider removing it to prevent damage to the OSSMS.

Structural - The actual piping that runs throughout the absorption field can be crushed. Often, this is due to vehicular traffic driving over OSSMS components. Another common structural issue is a collapse at a "step-down." A step-down is where there is a designed elevation change in the piping. This collapse usually occurs during the final landscaping, but a system can be used for many years before the septage even reaches that portion of the system.

Solution - You can help prevent structural issues by not allowing vehicular traffic over the septic tank or absorption field. Or, if a step-down has collapsed, this small section of pipe may be able to be replaced without altering any other portion of the system. This is usually a simple task that a certified contractor can complete in a couple of hours. Additionally, regulations used to allow corrugated pipe to be used for the step-downs, but codes have been updated which now mandate that SCH 40 PVC pipe is used to prevent this from occurring.

Corrugate Pipe Example (jpg)
PVC Pipe Used for Step-Down (jpg)

Blockage - Introducing grease or objects not designed to be disposed of into a septic tank, or failing to perform routine maintenance, can cause a blockage in either the inlet or outlet "T." Grease can be detrimental to all components of an OSSMS. NEVER POUR GREASE DOWN THE DRAIN! Additionally, other items are routinely flushed down the commode: cigarette butts, paper towels, toys, expired medication, automobile fluids, condoms, feminine hygiene products, etc. All of these can contribute to a blockage in the septic tank or one of the "T's." If this happens, the sewage usually either backs-up into the building or surfaces above the septic tank.

Solution - Never intentionally introduce any of the previously mentioned items into the OSSMS. The majority of these items can be discarded in the garbage can. If a blockage has occurred, have the septic tank pumped and remove whatever substance is blocking the flow of septage.

Steps to Remediate a Failing OSSMS:

Contact the Clayton County Board of Health's Environmental Health Office. They can perform an on-site evaluation and even provide some repair options depending upon your site conditions.

Contact a DHR Certified Pumper (http://health.state.ga.us/pdfs/environmental/LandUse/Contractors/Certified/Pumpers.pdf) to pump out the septic tank. This can be more beneficial in some circumstances than others, but if it has been more than five (5) years since the tank has been pumped, it is probably due for service anyway. This can be more beneficial if there is a blockage in either "T" causing the septage to back-up into the building or surface over the septic tank.

Contact a Septic Tank Installer (http://health.state.ga.us/pdfs/environmental/landuse/contractors/certified/installers.pdf). They can perform a site evaluation and can recommend repair options. We always recommend contacting at least three (3) contractors so that you will be able to determine what a "fair" price is for the services needed. Additionally, one person's recommendation may vary from another's. Therefore, your differing quotes may be because you are comparing "apples to oranges" instead of "apples to apples."

Contact a DHR Certified Soil Classifier (http://health.state.ga.us/pdfs/environmental/LandUse/SoilClassifiers/ApprovedSoilClassifiers.pdf) to make a site visit and create a soil map which reflects the soil conditions on your lot. This will be extremely beneficial when trying to determine what type(s) of systems would be best. Without this, neither an accurate recommendation nor proposal can be made by our office or any contractor.

Example of absorption field installed in a water table. This could have been avoided if a soil classifier had been contacted (jpg)

Example of the same installation about two (2) weeks later. Water is standing in the ditch and could have caused system failure had it been approved (jpg)

Decide on the Best Course of Action

Conventional/Gravel Absorption Field

Conventional/gravel absorption field - this is the "traditional" absorption field that most older OSSMS use … though it is still a viable option today. The products listed below all receive various reductions in linear footage compared to the conventional/gravel trench.


Chamber Absorption Field Multi-Pipe Absorption Field
Polystyrene Absorption Field

Complete an OSSMS Repair Application and submit it to our office. We recommend that you begin working with a contractor as early into the process as possible. They may even be able to assist you with the permitting process, proposing which type of absorption field would best suit your site, and even with the site plan. However, this is not a given with every company as we cannot regulate a company's operating procedures.

Your contractor will then install the new OSSMS as per the permit that has been issued by our office.

An environmentalist will then inspect the installation to ensure that it has been installed according to the Rules and Regulations set forth by the Clayton County Board of Health.


Clayton County Board of Health
Office of Environmental Health Services

1 Crown Center 1895 Phoenix Blvd, Suite 350 College Park, GA 30349
Phone: (678) 610-7469   Fax: (770) 603-4874