If you live in one of the many New Jersey neighborhoods that do not have access to public water and sewer services, your property probably has a septic system or similar process for removing, treating and storing your family's wastewater. You may not have much interest in understanding how that system works as long as it works effectively and does not cause you any headaches.
It may not have occurred to you that your neighbor's septic system may also be a source of headaches for you. When a neighbor's septic system fails, your property may be at risk for contamination and other hazards. Left unchecked, your neighbor's failing septic system could even place your family's health in danger.
What's happening underground?
One morning, the stench of sewage may have greeted you when you stepped outside. Perhaps you smelled something rank wafting through your windows as you sat down to dinner. Maybe you can even see puddles of murky water on your neighbor's property or patches where the grass is thicker and greener. These are signs that someone's septic system may be failing. Your neighbor may have a leaky pipe or have simply neglected to have the tank emptied recently.
While this may seem like your neighbor's problem and not yours, the pollutants escaping from the septic system could very easily end up in your yard, your garden, your basement or your drinking water. A failing septic system raises the risk of the following dangers:
- Toxic gases, such as sulfur dioxide, methane and carbon dioxide, can build up in your basement, endangering your health or even leading to asphyxiation and death.
- Microorganisms may end up in your garden where you grow food, causing serious illnesses, such as botulism, salmonella and cholera.
- If your children or pets play in the yard, they may accidentally ingest any of these microorganisms, which can lead to serious illness.
- If your neighbor habitually pours chemicals down the drains, such as paint thinner, pesticides or cleaning products, a failing septic system may expose your family to a dangerous combination.
In fact, pouring chemicals down the drain is one way in which a neighbor may damage his or her septic system, creating leaks in the tank or pipes. The wastewater can then easily reach underground water systems or follow the natural flow of water when it rains. If you are dealing with the danger of a neighboring septic system that seems to be failing, you may benefit from discussing your situation with an attorney who has experience in environmental law.