Health & Fitness

Maintaining home septic systems properly protects all of us

When I first heard the term “environmental health,” I thought it had to do with polar bears, bees, and trees. It does. It also has to do with how the environment affects human health. We are all connected.

You can find news articles about cholera epidemics, chemical spills in drinking water sources and E. coli scares in food for a few examples. Clearly, health is more than health care. Environmental health professionals strive to make sure that the environment contributes to our good health. Each of us, too, plays a role in safeguarding human health by helping to keep clean the environment that we live, work and play in.

One example is the shared responsibility of treating sewage and keeping drinking water clean. In our area, sewage gets purified either at a wastewater treatment plant or in a septic system.

Septic systems require routine care and maintenance to function well. While the health department sets septic system regulations, septic system care begins with the owners. There are more than 70,000 septic systems in Thurston County. If you own one of them, be aware that how well your system performs affects the quality of the water that we drink and the quality of water in our lakes, streams and Puget Sound. And water quality affects our health.

How you, your family and your guests use water and treat septic tanks and drain fields makes a big difference in how well a septic system functions. Our free Septic $ense workshops teach septic system owners how to maintain their systems. Each workshop runs from 7-9 p.m. on the following days at these locations:

Wednesday at Gordon’s Grange Hall, 308 East Yelm Ave., Yelm.

Thursday at McLane Fire Station, 125 Delphi Road NW, Olympia.

May 21 at Griffin Fire Station, 3707 Steamboat Island Loop NW, Olympia

May 22 at the Thurston County Courthouse, 2000 Lakeridge Drive SW, Building 1, Olympia.

Please register at or by calling 360-867-2673, TDD line is 360-867-2603. Participants will get a coupon for $10 off their next septic tank pumping.

Follow these tips to help you get started:

Protect your investment. Locate your drain field and protect it. Keep vehicles, large animals, and trees off your drain field so that pipes don’t get crushed or clogged. Learn more ways to maintain your system and avoid expensive repairs at one of our workshops.

Extend the life of your septic system. Inspect your septic system each year and have it pumped every three to five years. Limit garbage disposal use and keep tissues, baby wipes, grease, tampons and condoms out of your system. Septic systems treat sewage — nothing else.

Use less water. Excessive water use is a main cause of system failure. Use water-saving kitchen, bath, and laundry appliances and fixtures. Spread laundry out over the week by doing no more than two or three loads a day. Fix faucet and toilet leaks promptly.

For more information, visit or call the Septic Help Line at 360-867-2669.

Help us protect human health by doing what you can to protect our environment.

Dr. Rachel C. Wood is the health officer for Thurston and Lewis counties. Reach her at 360-867-2501,, or @ThurstonHealth on Twitter.