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Glossary of Septic-Related Terms


Absorption: The process by which one substance is taken into and included within another substance, such as the absorption of water by soil or nutrients by plants.

Aerobic: Having molecular oxygen as a part of the environment, or growing or occurring only in the presence of molecular oxygen, as in "aerobic organisms."

Aerobic treatment unit (ATU): A mechanical onsite treatment unit that provides secondary wastewater treatment by mixing air (oxygen) and aerobic and facultative microbes with the wastewater. ATUs typically use a suspended growth treatment process (similar to activated sludge extended aeration) or a fixed film treatment process (similar to trickling filter).

Anaerobic: Characterized by the absence of molecular oxygen, or growing in the absence of molecular oxygen (as in "anaerobic bacteria").

Biomat: The layer of biological growth and inorganic residue that develops at the wastewater-soil interface and extends up to about 1 inch in to the soil matrix. The biomat controls the rate at which pretreated wastewater moves through the infiltrative surface/zone for coarse- to medium-textured soils. This growth may not control fluxes through fine clay soils, which are more restrictive to wastewater flows than the biomat.

Blackwater: Liquid and solid human body waste and the carriage waters generated through toilet usage.

Clarifiers: Settling tanks that typically remove settleable solids by gravity.

Construction permit: A permit issued or authorized by the regulatory authority that allows the installation of a wastewater treatment system in accordance with approved plans and applicable codes.

Conventional onsite system: A wastewater treatment system consisting of a septic tank and subsurface wastewater infiltration system.

Denitrification: The biochemical reduction of nitrate or nitrite to gaseous molecular nitrogen or anoxide of nitrogen.

Disinfection: The process of destroying pathogenic and other microorganisms in wastewater, typically through application of chlorine compounds, ultra-violet light, iodine, ozone, and the like.

Drain field: Shallow, covered, excavation made in unsaturated soil into which pretreated wastewater is discharged through distribution piping for application onto soil infiltration surfaces through porous media or manufactured (gravelless) components placed in the excavations. The soil accepts, treats, and disperses wastewater as it percolates through the soil, ultimately discharging to groundwater.

Effluent: Sewage, water, or other liquid, partially or completely treated or in its natural state, flowing out of a septic tank, subsurface wastewater infiltration system, aerobic treatment unit, or other treatment system or system component.

Graywater: Wastewater drained from sinks, tubs, showers, dishwashers, clothes washers, and other non-toilet sources.

Nitrification: The biochemical oxidation of ammonium to nitrate

Onsite wastewater treatment system (OWTS): A system relying on natural processes and/or mechanical components that is used to collect, treat, and disperse/discharge wastewater from single dwellings or buildings.

Pathogenic: Causing disease; commonly applied to microorganisms that cause infectious diseases.

Performance requirement: Any requirement established by the regulatory authority to ensure future compliance with the public health and environmental goals of the community. Performance requirements can be expressed as numeric limits (e.g., pollutant concentrations, mass loads, wet weather flows, structural strength) or narrative descriptions of desired performance, such as no visible leaks or no odors.

Percolation: The flow or trickling of a liquid downward through a contact or filtering medium.

Pretreatment system: Any technology or combination of technologies that precedes discharge to a subsurface wastewater infiltration system or other final treatment unit or process before final dissemination into the receiving environment.

Settleable solids: Matter in wastewater that will not stay in suspension during a designated settling period.

Water table: The level in saturated soil at which the hydraulic pressure is zero.
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Please call TOLL FREE 877-4SEPTIC or email us at
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