Maintenance
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Drugs in Your Septic System

By Jim Kneiszel
Published: February 1, 2009

If you’re suffering from a serious or chronic illness, your cabin septic system might be in need of some healing as well.

Just as the presence of common prescription drugs in municipal water supplies has hit the news, liquid waste professionals are concerned that excess pharmaceuticals are upsetting the bacterial balance in the septic systems they pump. Contractors who maintain septic systems have reported failures in systems used by people receiving extensive drug therapies or chemotherapy. It’s thought that excess meds not absorbed by the body are carried in waste to the septic tank, where they hamper the bacterial action necessary to break down waste. Without proper bacterial action, waste doesn’t separate efficiently, threatening the effective life of your septic system.

Poorly separated wastewater leaving the septic tank can clog the drainfield, requiring costly repairs or replacement. While halting lifesaving medical treatments isn’t an option, you can do a few things to protect your septic system from an overdose:

Call for more frequent septic tank inspections.

Your septic waste pumping specialist will suggest an inspection schedule based on your situation. If you live at the cabin full time, you might want to request an inspection every three to six months. If your visits are infrequent, the medicines you take may not have an impact on the septic system.

Dispose of excess meds responsibly.

Never flush unused medications down the toilet, whether you’re at the cabin hooked to a septic system or at home with a municipal wastewater system. Many municipalities are now including unused drugs in their hazardous waste collections. Hospitals and clinics also sometimes offer drug disposal or recycling.

Mix into trash, if necessary.

If you must put meds in the trash, the Office of National Drug Control Policy recommends that you mix pharmaceuticals with “undesirable’’ substances like coffee grounds or cat litter, then seal in a nondescript container and put in the trash to discourage anyone from ingesting them.

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