An Introduction to Cesspools
At its simplest, a cesspool (or leaching pit) is a covered pit dug in the ground for the purpose of disposing of sewage. Porous cement or masonry walls provide support for the pit, and a second layer of gravel generally separates this porous stone from the surrounding earth. If the soil surrounding the cesspool allows, the liquids leach out into the surrounding area, leaving the solids behind.
Over time, those solids fill up the cesspool, causing such common cesspool failures as overflow and odor. Additional drawbacks include a number of documented cases where cesspools have collapsed, injuring or even killing passerbys unlucky enough to be sucked into the collapsing hole. Public health officials generally frown on cesspools, and local building and health codes in the United States generally prohibit their construction.
When Is a Cesspool Appropriate?
While there are drawbacks, there may be situations when a cesspool is a reasonable wastewater solution: For example, when city or town plumbing aren't available, the expense of a septic system puts a more sophisticated system out of reach, and local regulations don't prohibit them. Hunting cabins and other rural seasonal structures often resort to cesspools for these reasons.
If you are considering the new construction of a cesspool, be sure to check with your local building codes. It is important to locate cesspools far (and preferably downhill) from drinking water, and to avoid building them in porous soil.
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