Effects of aeration on water quality from septic system leachfields

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We conducted a pilot-scale study at a research facility in southeastern Connecticut to assess the effects of leachfield aeration on removal of nutrients and pathogens from septic system effluent. Treatments consisted of lysimeters periodically aerated to maintain a headspace O2 concentration of 0.209 mol mol-1 (AIR) or vented to an adjacent leachfield trench (LEACH) and were replicated three times. All lysimeters were dosed with effluent from a septic tank for 24 mo at a rate of 12 cm d-1 and subsequently for 2 mo at 4 cm d-1. LEACH lysimeters had developed a clogging mat, or biomat, 20 mo before the beginning of our study. The level of aeration in the AIR treatment was held constant regardless of loading rate. No conventional biomat developed in the AIR treatment, whereas a biomat was present in the LEACH lysimeters. The headspace of LEACH lysimeters was considerably depleted in O2 and enriched in CH4, CO2, and H2S relative to AIR lysimeters. Drainage water from AIR lysimeters was saturated with O2 and had significantly lower pH, five-day biological oxygen demand (BOD5), and ammonium, and higher levels of nitrate and sulfate than LEACH lysimeters regardless of dosing rate. By contrast, significantly lower levels of total N and fecal coliform bacteria were observed in AIR than in LEACH lysimeters only at the higher dosing rate. No significant differences in total P removal were observed. Our results suggest that aeration may improve the removal of nitrogen, BOD5, and fecal coliforms in leachfield soil, even in the absence of a biomat.

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Journal of Environmental Quality