The quality of effluent from an on-site sewage treatment system is a critical factor in designing the disposal area and, hence, ensuring the sustained performance of the system. Contaminant concentrations in effluent are typically specified in regulatory guidelines or standards; however, the accuracy of these guideline values are brought into question due to the poor performance of septic tanks and the high failure rates of disposal systems reported here and elsewhere. Results from studies of septic tank effluent quality indicated that the effluent is of poorer quality than currently suggested by guidelines. Aerated wastewater treatment systems were found to perform to accreditation guidelines; however, insufficient nutrient data is presently available to assess nutrient loads. It is proposed that the 80th percentile of system performance be adopted as the design value for sizing effluent disposal areas to minimise failure associated with overloading. For septic tanks this equates to 660 mg L−1 SS, 330 mg L−1 BOD, 250 mg L−1 TN and 36 mg L−1 TP.

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