Cesspool and Septic Tanks

What is a Cesspool?

A cesspool is an underground tank which stores sewage until the time of disposal. Cesspools must be watertight to prevent the leakage of foul water or the ingress of groundwater.

They may be constructed in a variety of materials including brick or concrete, but modern ones are more commonly made from glass-reinforced plastics, polythene or steel and have a minimum capacity of 18, 000 litres.

They should be sited so that there is no risk of pollution, particularly to water supplies, and should ideally be located away from any inhabited building to avoid odour problems.

Under the provisions of the Public Health Act 1936, it is an offence to allow a cesspool to overflow or leak. If this happens the owner is liable to prosecution by a local authority and a fine of £50 plus a £2 daily penalty.

In addition, if pollution of a water course takes place, the Environment Agency, which is responsible for ensuring the quality of rivers is monitored and maintained, may take legal action under the Water Resources Act 1991. The penalty for allowing a polluting discharge is up to £20,000 and/or three months imprisonment.

It is an offence for any person other than a competent contractor to pump out, or otherwise attempt to empty out, the contents of a cesspool.

Septic Tanks

A septic tank is a complete mini sewage system in which effluent is treated naturally by making use of bacteria to break down all the solid matter to approximately one third of its original volume.

The settled solids need to be removed only when necessary - usually once a year. The clear liquid flowing from the tank is disposed of via a land drainage system which should not flood. Septic tanks, like cesspools, should be watertight, adequately ventilated and not located where they will pollute water supplies.

Under the Public Health Act 1936, it is an offence to allow a septic tank to overflow or leak. If this happens, the owner is liable to prosecution by the Local Authority and, upon conviction, will be fined up to £50 plus a £2 daily penalty.

New Septic Tanks (unless a like for like replacement) will require both building control permission and a discharge consent from the Environment Agency. (Telephone 08708 506 506).