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North-east residents encouraged to ‘make friends with your septic tank’

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A guide to the use and management of septic tanks has been produced by the Dee Catchment Partnership. It answers questions about how to find your septic tank, how your septic tank works and why you need to look after it.

The Dee Catchment Partnership is launching a campaign called ‘Think T.A.N.K.’ to assist north-east residents to avoid the problems that can be caused by septic tanks.

Members of the Dee Catchment Partnership will be at Banchory Tesco this Friday 10 May to give owners free advice and information about the care of a septic tank system. Visitors can enter a competition to win a hamper of eco-friendly household products.

Aberdeenshire has one of the highest numbers of private septic tanks in the UK, with over 4,000 households using a septic tank to treat wastewater from baths, sinks and toilets. When working properly, these are very effective treatment systems, with helpful bacteria doing the work of digesting waste. However, if a septic tank is not functioning properly it can cause odour nuisance, flooding, pollution, serious health risks, and considerable expense for the owner to meet legal requirements.

The liquid that drains away from the tank (effluent) can cause a number of problems. If a system is failing, the effluent may contain high levels of harmful bacteria and so pose a serious health risk to families and communities. The effluent from all tanks (even those that are well-maintained) contains chemical residues (called phosphates) from household cleaning products.

Phosphates are a serious pollutant of watercourses and therefore it is important that septic tank owners only use products that are labelled ‘phosphate free’ or ‘septic friendly’, especially if where a tank discharges directly to a burn, river, loch or the sea.

The Dee Catchment Partnership ‘Think T.A.N.K.’ campaign encourages septic system owners to avoid these problems and help their local environment by ‘making friends with their septic tanks’.

Dr Susan Cooksley, Dee Catchment Partnership Project Officer said: "We are promoting four simple steps for septic tank owners to follow. First, they should tidy the site. Owners should locate and check the tank, pipes and outfalls, making sure pipes are not blocked or broken and the areas around the tank and soakaway are always accessible.

"Second, owners must avoid putting harsh chemicals (such as bleach, disinfectant or caustic soda) down the drain, and always use eco-friendly cleaners and disinfectants, preferably those labelled suitable for septic tanks.

"Third, no rainwater must enter the system so owners should make sure surface water drainage is not connected to the septic tank; this is one of the most common reasons for frequent tank emptying and failures.

"Finally, owners must keep the system maintained. You should have your tank emptied, or de-sludged, regularly. By following these steps, owners should find that their tank needs to be emptied less frequently. However, if in doubt always arrange for your tank to be cleaned out."

Septic tank owners have a number of legal responsibilities. They must make sure that the tank is maintained and working properly in order to prevent risks to public health and to protect the environment. All new septic tanks require authorisation before installation, and all existing septic tanks must be registered with SEPA. This can be done at any time but will be a requirement when the house is next sold.

A guide to the use and management of septic tanks has been produced by the Dee Catchment Partnership, an association of agencies, organisations and individuals who work together to protect and enhance the rivers, burns and lochs in the River Dee Catchment area. The leaflet answers questions about how to find your septic tank, how your septic tank works and why you need to look after it. It offers tips to help you keep your septic tank in good working order, reducing the number of times it has to be emptied, protecting the environment as well as saving unnecessary expense.

Email for free information or visit the Think Tank page. To register your septic tank visit or call 0800 80 70 60.

Notes for editors

The Dee Catchment Partnership is an independent association of agencies, organisations and individuals committed to the wise and sustainable use of the catchment's rivers, tributaries and lochs, as well as the habitats and species they support. Its members are the Aberdeenshire and Aberdeen City Councils, Aberdeen Harbour Board, Cairngorms National Park Authority, Dee District Salmon Fishery Board, Forestry Commission Scotland, The James Hutton Institute, the National Farmers’ Union Scotland, Scottish Enterprise Grampian, the SRUC (Scotland's Rural College), the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, the Scottish Government, Scottish Natural Heritage, Scottish Land and Estates and Scottish Water. It is hosted by the James Hutton Institute in Aberdeen.

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The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.