Practitioner's Tool / Septage Collection

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Emptying process
Emptying process

Septage collection operations work best when there is cooperation between local officials, homeowners, and the desludging service provider. Community leader. The community leader should be advised well in advance of any pending desludging operations. This person understands the specific conditions that may affect operations, such as unusual traffic patterns or areas in the community with especially difficult access. Oftentimes, the community leader knows the houses and the owners as well.

City officials.In the Philippines, the city official responsible for septage management is usually the Community Environment and Natural Resources Officer (CENRO). This person manages the office responsible for solid and liquid waste, community outreach and education in environmental matters. In Marikina city, for example, the CENRO coordinates activities with the septic tank desludger and the community leader through the city's Todo Sipsip program. Marikina sends out a sound truck the day before desludging operations advising homeowners to avail of the service. Then, on the day of the desludging, the city provides two workers to help meet homeowners, locate tanks, and open manholes. This combination of efforts helps improve compliance greatly.

Service Providers.Service providers should follow these best practices in septage collection to perform their operations safely and efficiently:

  • Collection should be done in coordination with the community leader and city partners (or their duly authorized representatives) who will sign the manifest forms and coordinate an organized approach to the desludging.
  • Collection should preferably be done when traffic in the area is light. All collection vehicles shall have early warning devices and traffic cones placed at the back and front of the vehicle during operation. It is the responsibility of the collection operator to check the truck's safety equipment daily prior to dispatching the unit for service. Any safety equipment deficiencies should be reported to the yard supervisor and repaired before dispatch.
  • After the desludging operation, the operator must ensure the cleanliness of the area. Any leaks must be disinfected with a bleach solution or by spreading lime over the spillage. It is the collection operator’s responsibility to verify that sufficient disinfectant (bleach or lime) is on the truck prior to dispatching it for service.
  • Desludging workers must wear appropriate personal protective equipment. This includes rubber gloves, rubber boots, a face mask and eye protection. After the pumping activities, operators should wash their hands with soap.
  • Only service providers with valid permits and sanitary clearances are authorized to collect and transport domestic septage and sludge.
  • Only specially licensed drivers may operate a desludging tanker/truck.

Septic tanks are often located inside homes, which requires delicate customer relations. Homeowners are great sources of information about their septic tanks. Ask them where all of the cleanouts and manholes are. This is also a good opportunity to provide informational handouts, such as "Care and Feeding of Your Septic Tank," or to simply provide information about the benefits of desludging. Courtesy and professional conduct is required at all times.

A pre-pumping inspection should be performed before every pumping event. Desludging septic tanks requires more than just operating equipment. The tank lid should be opened so that the tank can be inspected. A small mirror can be fixed to a stick and used in conjunction with a flashlight for easy inspection. The water level in the tank should be assessed: a water level below the outlet pipe indicates a leaking tank, and a water level higher than the outlet pipe indicates a clogged outlet or sewer line. If there is no outlet pipe, this is an indication of a poorly designed septic tank, and the homeowner should be informed of the consequences of releasing their septage to groundwater without sufficient treatment.

Note the outlet tee compared with the water level in this photograph to the left. The water level is just a few centimeters below the flow line (the bottom of the inlet pipe) where it enters the tank, indicating a proper level. Note also that the top of the tee is open. This allows the septic gasses to vent out of the tank and through the plumbing stack in the house to the atmosphere. Septic tank desludgers should perform a thorough inspection of inlet and outlet pipes and recommend repairs as needed. Desludgers should also take note if there is no exhaust system in place in the home and explain to the homeowner that this can lead to explosive conditions.

Septage desludging operators should follow these procedures for desludging residential septic tanks:

  • Connect the hoses starting from the septic tank and working back to the truck. Hose connections should be watertight to avoid leaks. Report any hose or fitting leaks to management at the end of the shift.
  • Pump liquids from the tank using vacuum equipment. Use the hose to break up sludge and scum masses when possible.

NOTE: The desludging operator should inspect the tank to look for remaining sludge after the initial pumping. Some incidental sludge in the tank is okay. If there are large masses of sludge remaining, pump the liquid back into the septic tank using the stream from the hose to break up the sludge masses. Then pump out the contents again. Repeat as necessary. This pump back method is highly effective but only works if hoses and fittings are in good repair and connected properly. Leaky hoses or a connection failure could be disastrous if it happens inside someone’s home during the pump back procedure.

  • After the tank is pumped, perform a final inspection. Look and listen for water running back into the tank. This could be an indication of a clogged sewer line.
  • Replace manhole covers and cleanout lids. Verify lids are tightly sealed and in good condition. Tight-fitting and secured lids can help the entire family by reducing odors and attracting fewer nuisances that could harm children. Septic tank manhole lids should be secured from unauthorized entry. This may be accomplished by use of a locking hasp, or even the weight of the concrete lid could be enough to keep children out.
  • Remove all hoses and equipment from the premises and clean up any spills using a solution of one cup chlorine bleach to 4 liters of water.
  • The desludger should complete a manifest form. There is a space at the bottom for comments. Use this space to advise the homeowner of any deficiencies or suggestions. Sign the form, obtain the signature of the homeowner or barangay captain and give a copy to the homeowner.