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Scientific Investigations Report 2006-5183

Assessment of the Use of Selected Chemical and Microbiological Constituents as Indicators of Wastewater in Curtain Drains From Home Sewage-Treatment Systems in Medina County, Ohio

By Denise H. Dumouchelle

In cooperation with the Medina County Health Department


Many home sewage-treatment systems (HSTS) in Ohio use curtain or perimeter drains to depress the level of the subsurface water in and around the systems. These drains could possibly intercept partially untreated wastewater and release potential pathogens to ground-water and surface-water bodies. The quality of water in curtain drains from two different HSTS designs in Medina County, Ohio, was investigated using several methods. Six evaporation-transpiration-absorption (ETA) and five leach-line (LL) systems were investigated by determining nutrient concentrations, chloride/bromide ratios (Cl/Br), Escherichia coli (E. coli ) concentrations, coliphage genotyping, and genetic fingerprinting of E. coli. Water samples were collected at 11 sites and included samples from curtain drains, septic tanks, and residential water wells.

Nitrate concentrations in the curtain drains ranged from 0.03 to 3.53 mg/L (milligrams per liter), as N. Concentrations of chloride in 10 of the 11 curtain drains ranged from 5.5 to 21 mg/L; the chloride concentration in the eleventh curtain drain was 340 mg/L. Bromide concentrations in 11 curtain drains ranged from 0.01 to 0.22 mg/L. Cl/Br ratios ranged from 86 to 2,000. F-specific coliphage were not found in any curtain-drain samples. Concentrations of E. coli in the curtain drains ranged from 1 to 760 colonies per 100 milliliters.

The curtain-drain water-quality data were evaluated to determine whether HSTS-derived water was present in the curtain drains. Nutrient concentrations were too low to be of use in the determination. The Cl/Br ratios appear promising. Coliphage was not detected in the curtain drains, so genotyping could not be attempted. E. coli concentrations in the curtain drains were all less than those from the corresponding HSTS; only one sample exceeded the Ohio secondary-contact water-quality standard. The genetic fingerprinting data were inconclusive because multiple links between unrelated sites were found.

Although the curtain-drain samples from the ETA systems showed somewhat more evidence of the presence of HSTS water than did the LL systems, most of the approaches were inconclusive by themselves. The best evidence of HSTS water, from the Cl/Br ratios, indicates that the water in 10 of the 11 curtain drains, at both HSTS types, was a mixture of dilute ground water and HSTS-derived water; the 11th drain also show some effects of the HSTS, although road salt-affected water may be present. Therefore, it appears that there is no difference between the ETA and LL systems with respect to the water quality in curtain drains.

Table of Contents



Purpose and Scope

Description of Home Sewage-Treatment Systems

Selection of Constituents for Study

Methods of Data Collection and Analysis

Chemical Constituents

Microbiological Constituents

Occurrence of Chemical and Microbiological Constituents


Chloride and Bromide



Chloride/Bromide Ratios


E. coli Bacteria.

Utility of Study Approaches and Inferences From Available Data.

Summary and Conclusions


References Cited

Suggested citation:
Dumouchelle, D.H, 2006, Assessment of the use of selected chemical and microbiological constituents as indicators of wastewater in curtain drains from home sewage-treatment systems in Medina County, Ohio: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2006-5183, 20 p.

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