printer friendly version of this page.
History of Septic
our family built an adobe home on adobe soil, By 1952,
when I was attending the University of Arizona, Tueson,
my father contacted the soils lab there to discuss the
causes for the ongoing drainage problems encountered
in our septic system soils.
He received a short lesson on soils and
a new understanding about the anaerobic-aerobic interface
which occurs when septage hits well aerated soils. After
some research, he hit on pumice as a media for the drainfield,
due to the porous nature of the material. In short order,
he was corresponding with the best soil scientists in
the nation most of whom were specialists in agriculture.
In the early 1950's FHA had other lending agencies set
out to ascertain the "average" life expecancy
of septic systems to help in determining the length
of mortgages which would be granted for homes without
The University of California, set up a
research area in Richmond California, were detailed
studies were to be carried out. This was named the Sanitary
Engineering Research Lab (SERL). Among the original
team were such illustrious names as McGauhey, Winneberger
and Pomeroy who are still regarded as the leading lights
of waste research.
Their studies soon determined that septic
system or domestic wastewater contains high levels of
sodium from cleaning compounds, soaps (detergents) and
cooking. As any soil scientist worth his salt will tell
you, sodiums can sause clays to bind. These gentlemen
realized the implications for long-term failure of drainfield
soils, as well.
Clays are, in fact, important constituents
of soils in the cleanup process, as they are more surface
active than silts or sands. This information is repeatedly
noted in the series of reports from SERL. Later, in
the 1960's and 1970's Coulter and Bendixen (from Cincinnati)
carried the message to large audiences of health specialists.
Horne first visited the SEL facility in
1952, and was encouraged to field test his concepts
in a wide variety of situations. He patented a distribution
system over the pumice media and achieved success in
virtually every instance. His methods were applied in
Western states, including areas with marginal native
soils high sodium in the water supplies.
After using these "mechanical"
methods to provide drainage, Horne contacted Chevron
Oil, which had just purchased a company called California
Spray Chemical for its assets. As luck would have it,
the lab facilities were located in Richmond, CA "next
door" to the SERL facility!
became clear, however. Almost every order became a repeat
order. We continue to serve original clients, who have
maintained "marginal" systems in continuous
service for up to 43 years!
The tank does not fail. The soil fails.
Keeping the soil aerated and percolating requires understanding
of the role of the system components and the need for
regular pumping to assure adequate retention time for
separation and settling of solids which will, otherwise,
flow into the field along with greases, scums, fibers
After 40 years, 1993 Chevron sold off
its ORTHO division to Monsanto. which shortened the
line of products. SEPTIC SEEP
was transferred to me, as heir, under the new corporation
"Drayner, Inc." With the help of ORTHO's retiring
production, labeling, manufacturing and advertising
experts, who knew and respected Fred Horne, SEPTIC
SEEP continues to perform as always.
Meanwhile, the library of technical information
begun by Airrigation and ORTHO continues to grow daily,
thanks in large part to the resouces of the 90's and
the work of people like Dr. Robert Patterson of the
University of New England, NSW, Australia, who has just
completed a minutely detailed ten year study of the
effect of sodiums in household products on wastewater
absorption to soils.
His landmark speech at the ASTM conference in New Orleans
is to be published for distribution this June, and I
will have the privilege of presenting this work at the
National Environmental Health Association Conference
on June 29th in Alexandria, Virgina.
While I realize that many in this audience
are engineers, I earnest request that you become better
acquainted with the biological, chemical and physical
aspects of soils which are, in most cases, the principle
"cleaning" mechanisms for domestic (on-site)
Please let me hear from you all on this
matter. After more than 40 years of continuous "exposure"
to world class experts in this field, I hope I am competent
to take on your questions and provide support for your
projects. I do not hold a formal degree but find that
my "expertise" on this subject has come to
me by "osmosis".
group was formed to develop a garden products section,
which was soon to the named ORTHO. Horne worked with
this small group on a soil amendment, which would release
the sodium bound and restore percolation in failing
or marginal systems. With the support the "ORTHO"
product developers, he developed a soil amendment product
designed for homeowner application through the plumbing
to the tank and field. The product was trademarked SEPTIC
SEEP, and was supported by a series of articles
in Sunset Magazine as well as by features on septic
system maintenance tips in literally thousands of newspappers
and Sunday supplements.
In May of 1953, the ORTHO product line
sprang into the market place, which was primarily garden
shops, with some emphasis on farm sales for their line
of pesticides. Unfortunately, plumbing shops were not
on the call list of the ORTHO representatives, but Chevron
management soon turned all marketing over to Horne's
company, Airrigation Engineering.
ORTHO's crack sales force soon swept the
market with their revolutionary product line, which
included specific gardening booklets for everything
from tomatoes to prize orchids.
had to be differentiated from the thousands of "tank
additives" which ranged from yeast to dried sewae
sludge, many claiming "never pump again!"
A series of third party university and
agency tests were performed with "hands off"
wastewater and soils scientists to determine the effectiveness
of the product in large (regional park, camps, complexes)
and individual systems California, Texas, and Arizona.
Dosing was carefully monitored to assure the proper
ratio for tank and drainage flows.
Once these were completed, the product
was applied by about three dozen pumper operators and
field reports supplied on results. Someone felt that
a "flocculant" product, to help settle solids
would be beneficial, but it was soon evident that SEPTIC
SEEP was achieving some "dramatic"
results with visible changes noted.
Educating the "professional"
was a challenge but explaining the product to the public
in a retail setting was a daunting task. Then, as now,
the subject of sewage was deemed "improper"
at the dinner table and even as editorial context in
home magazines. Horne found himself championing the
need for education and accurate data to editors across