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To Add or Not to Add?

Bacterial additives can play a positive role, biological and psychological, in prosper septic system maintenance

By Bob Kendall
Reprinted from "Pumper"

Many pumpers make a meaningful portion of their income selling additives - especially bacterial products - as part of septic system maintenance.

Industry observers and even industry member sometimes ask: Are additives necessary? But that really isn't the right question. Asking that is something like asking: Are antibiotics necessary?

To the second question, the answer is: sometimes yes, and sometimes no. It depends on patient's condition. No responsible doctor would give an antibiotic to a patient who wasn't sick, or to a patient who has a cold - a viral disease that an antibiotic won't cure. But for strep throat, sinus infections, amd many other maladies, it's good to have the antibiotic arrow in the doctor's quiver. The point is, the doctor should decide. That's why we have prescriptions.

In a way, it's the way with septic system additives. And experienced pumper knows when an additive can be helpful and when it probably would not be. Pumpers know that some septic systems function perfectly well with natural bacteria and no outside intervention other than good basic maintenance. When that is true of a given homeowner's system, a responsible pumper will say so.

At other times, the pumper's observation, based on experience, say that something is interfering with the biogical activity in the septic tank. Those who state that bacterial additives are unnecessary perhaps have not seen septic tanks at households that use anti-bacterical soaps and cleaners indiscriminately, or where a household member is seriously ill and it taking powerful medication. Some tanks are poisoned because someone flushed a toxic chemical down the drain. In other cases, a tank may get too cold for the system to function properly.

One major problem with additives is that their reputation has been tainted by peddlers of snake oil - formulas that promise. Use this product and you'll never have your septic tank again. The reality is that many additives available to homeowners (and promoted by TV ads and telemarketing) are not worth buying. They may be nor more than sawdust or dried sewage sludge. At best, they do nothing. At worst, they do damage.

But quality additives, developed scientifically by reputable companies and sold to homeowners through industry professionals are a different story entirely. No responsible pumper would claim that any additive is a cure-all. Instead, pumpers promote additives as a component of a septic system maintenance program that includes professional inspection and periodic pumping.

It is possible to select bacteria to digest almost anything. Culturing bacteria is easy, and it is not difficult to select types of bacteria to be grown. Responsible additive suppliers have chosen and bred bacteria specifically for septic systems care and restoration

Yes, septic systems naturally contain bacteria, millions upon millions of them and they do a splendid job of breaking down solids under the conditions found in most tanks. Yet, pumpers have seen systems that show no signs of digestion at all. They may not have volumes of scientific studies to documnet that bacterial additives work but they have seen for themselves what the right additives can do for a tank that for whatever reason has stopped functioning effectively.

Many homeowners can attest to the same and swear by additives. Why else would they spend hard earned money on them? A pumper who offers quality products, uses them selectively, and helps educate customers on how their systems work is, in a way, like a doctor: a source of advice and, where needed, a cure. Should homeowners trust these professionals to advise them? Or should they rely on telemarketers who most likely have no clue what a septic tank is?