How Medications Affect Your Septic System

We recently had a discussion on WDUN’s The Home Improvement Show, where we talked about the effects of medication and other materials on your septic system. This blog post is going to take this topic a little further and explain how medications can cause damage to your septic tank’s ecosystem.

Americans flush all types of items down their drains, resulting in clogs, burst pipes and even septic tank backups. Some of these items are common sense items that the average homeowner should know to avoid flushing down the toilet or pouring down their sinks. Other items, such as medications, may not be so obvious.

The simple rule of thumb to remember is this: The only thing you should flush down your toilet is toilet paper and waste water. Period. No goldfish, no medicine and definitely no baby alligators (the last thing we need is more giant alligators running rampant in the Georgia sewer systems)!

Why You Shouldn’t Flush Medication Down the Drains

Your septic system is a living entity, full of helpful bacteria whose sole purpose in life is to consume and break down human waste. When chemicals such as antibiotics, antibacterials, chemotherapy treatments and even an abundance of salt water, enter your tank, it causes an imbalance in the ecosystem, weakening or killing the bacteria in the septic tank. This causes solid waste to build up in the tank much faster, leading to issues in the drainfield and/or mound.

In addition to issues with the septic system, medications and chemicals can also eventually lead to groundwater contamination as well.

Note also that medications can enter your septic system through normal human waste as well, as the body does not always fully metabolize medications, allowing remnants to exit your body via the digestive system.

Protecting Septic Systems from Medication and Chemicals

Below are some steps you can take to prevent damage to your septic tank and drainfield by errant prescriptions.

  • Do not flush medications, chemicals, salt water, anti-bacterial soap or cleaning supplies such as bleach, ammonia, or glass cleaners down your toilet or drains.
  • Consider adding an effluent screen to your septic tank to reduce waste entering your drainfield. Be sure to have the screen maintained regularly, per your plumbing contractor’s instructions.
  • If you have a sick family member residing in your home who requires high dosages of antibiotics, or who is receiving chemotherapy treatments, up the time in-between septic pumps. Consult a licensed plumber or home improvement contractor to determine how often you should schedule your septic pumping.
  • When you do have your septic tank pumped, be sure to have the plumber refill the septic tank with clean water to help dilute any leftover chemical or medication residue.
  • Consult a certified plumbing or home improvement contractor for a full list of tests and measures you can take to prevent damage to your septic system. The small amount of money you pay for the consultation will far outweigh any future costs in the event of system failure or breakdown.

How to Dispose of Medication Properly

There is no straightforward answer when it comes to the proper disposal of medication, mainly because each medication (and its affect on the environment) is different. Your best bet is to contact your local pharmacy, police department or hospital to ask if they have a medication recycling program in place.