#55 – Septic tank emptying… a crappy job!

Septic tank emptying, France [Alamy image ref. B2TTA8]

Yes, it’s a crappy job, but somebody has to do it!

The origin of the word “crap” did not – as is commonly assumed – originate with Thomas Crapper who, although he was associated with lavatories, did not actually invent the flush toilet. He did, however, increase the popularity of the toilet and developed important related inventions such as the ballcock. The word crap is actually of Middle English origin and thus predates its application to “bodily waste”. Its first use, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, appeared in 1846 under a reference to a “crapping ken”, or a privy, where ken means a house. Its most likely etymological origin is a combination of two older words, the Dutch “krappen” – to pluck off, cut off, or separate; and the Old French “crappe” – siftings, waste or rejected matter (from the medieval Latin “crappa” – chaff).

For “Crapper” reference see… http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Septic_tank

After that tasteful piece of introductory history, and coming to the subterranean subject of the photo above… a “septic tank” is a holding tank into which all the household waste water and products are discharged into. This waste that enters the tank comes from showers, sinks, toilets and baths… and over time the solids (heavy particles) sink to the bottom whilst the liquid scum in the septic tank is discharged out into a soak-away.

Septic tanks have been around for hundreds of years. In the old days a large hole was dug by hand and then a large watertight chamber was constructed from bricks and mortar. Today little has changed in regard to the function of a septic tank, apart from the construction materials (usually fiberglass) and bacteria that lives in the sewage tank. When I had a septic tank installed in the field next to our remote hillside Welsh house in the late 1980s, the builder recommended three separate concrete chambers (a fiberglass tank could have popped-out of the soggy ground when low in contents) and implied that the waste water emerging from the third chamber could be safely drunk!

However, I never tried that experiment… preferring everything to return to Nature where it belonged, and I didn’t have to have the tanks emptied once during the dozen years living there. But when living in France I regularly saw septic tanks being emptied in both rural areas and in villages and small towns… a huge tractor-drawn “sludge gulper” arriving with an accompanying and familiar odour to tell neighbours what was happening. The image above was taken at a house we rented for a year and I was lucky to be upwind for the best view during the proceedings… the apparent “safe” distance being somewhat distorted from using the wide end of my 14-24mm Nikkor.

The Image was licensed by Alamy for use in a retail book with a 5,000 print-run in the Czech Republic for a 12-month period.

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