Academic journal article Journal of Environmental Health

Electrical Conductivity Helps Locate Septic-System Failure

Academic journal article Journal of Environmental Health

Electrical Conductivity Helps Locate Septic-System Failure

Article excerpt

An instrument that can measure how well soil conducts electricity also can spot the source of septic-system failures without the need to destroy a whole yard with a backhoe.

The instrument, called a non-invasive electromagnetic induction (EMI) sensor, measures electrical conductivity on the basis of soluble salts, water, temperature, and percentage of clay in the soil. Purdue University researchers and colleagues tested the tool on a failed septic system in northeastern Indiana and found that soil conductivity changes can signal septic failure.

They found that the sensor was capable of collecting soil data that identified problems in the septic tank and septic-field trenches, said Brad Lee, an assistant professor of agronomy at Purdue. The findings have been published in the online journal Vadose Zone, a publication of the Soil Science Society of America.

"One of the big problems in looking for septic-system contamination is that homeowners don't want their lawns dug up," Lee said. "The sensor can help investigators locate problems without digging. This is possible because soil contaminated with household waste has a higher electrical conductivity than the readings from the rest of the lawn."

The electromagnetic sensor is portable, collects data quickly, and can measure down to many soil depths, he said. In addition, maps prepared from sensor data can be used to assess building sites, plan future testing, and locate the best sites for sampling and monitoring of soil. …

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