Environmental guidance for your business in Northern Ireland & Scotland

What can go wrong with a septic tank

What can go wrong with a septic tank


If you are the owner of the septic tank then you are responsible for its safe and effective operation.  Problems can occur with septic tanks and they can be described as:

  1. Problems with the operation of the septic tank
  2. Problems that affect nearby watercourses and groundwater
  3. Problems that affect your neighbours


1. Problems with the operation of the septic tank.

Make sure you know how best to look after your septic tank, including What shouldn’t go into a septic tank and Maintaining your septic tank (Links to the above pages)

Your tank should be able to deal with the quantity of sewage and waste water you produce. It should treat it, and produce a discharge that doesn’t smell or flood the ground.  The discharge should not cause problems by polluting watercourses. If it fails to operate correctly, then you should contact a drainage specialist or plumber who can remedy the problems.


2. Problems that affect nearby watercourses and groundwater

If your septic tank is discharging effluent that is pollution nearby streams, or is polluting groundwater then this is a matter for your environmental regulator, either the NIEA or SEPA. They may require you to carry out work that will prevent pollution of the water environment.


3. Problems that affect your neighbours

If your septic tank:

  • produces a foul smell that causes offence to your neighbours
  • discharges to a soakaway that is ineffective and creates damp ground with an offensive odour that affects your neighbour’s property
  • affects a water supply on your neighbour’s property

then your neighbours can contact the environmental health department of your local council. Your council can use laws designed to deal with nuisances, and can require you to carry out works to stop the nuisance and to prevent it happening again.

The correct installation and correct management of the tank should prevent these types of issues arising.

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