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Here in New England many towns do not have public sewer systems, so homeowners have either a septic system or a cesspool. What is the difference between the two?

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Septic systems leach out into the surrounding area (called a "leach field"). This helps reduce the number of times the system needs pumped out. Liquid (and some solid) waste is broken down and leaches out into the field. Some municipalities don't like this because it has the potential to contaminate local water sheds (most notably if you're near a river).

A cesspool is a sealed tank for holding waste. Since it's sealed it doesn't leak but frequently needs drained. More expensive than a septic system but more environmentally friendly.

Most places in the US that don't have city sewer services have a septic tank as far as I'm aware. I haven't heard of many cesspools.

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In addition, a lot of people have aeration systems. They are kinda a hybrid between the two. The wate collects, and three is a little motor that spins a blade or turbine in the tank to help breakdown the waste faster. There are several tanks that the stuffs flows to like a traditional septic, but rather than a leech field, the output is far clearner and safe to drain to a creek or stream. These are required in our area if you live near a body of water, as the leech fields do use the ground to fully "clean" the output. –  mohlsen Jul 22 '10 at 13:07
    
@mohlsen Good to know ! never heard of it. Honestly I've never lived in a house that had septic. I've always been fortunate enough to have a sewer connection so I don't know a whole lot about septic tanks/cesspools. –  Scott Vercuski Jul 22 '10 at 13:13
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The argument here is that sceptic systems are the most environmentally friendly. The water is returned to the ground and the nutrients are reabsorbed rather than dumping it all in the ocean. –  mgb May 25 '11 at 4:28
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