September 23, 2013

Popular bathroom wipes blamed for sewer clogs

The problem is costing some municipalities millions of dollars to dispatch crews to unclog pipes and pumps and to replace and upgrade machinery.

The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

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In this photograph taken, Friday, Sept. 20, 2013, in Middlesex, N.J., the label that indicates wipes should not be flushed in a toilet is seen on a box next to baby wipes at the office of Rob Villee, executive director of the Plainfield Area Regional Sewer Authority in New Jersey. Increasingly popular bathroom wipes, thick, premoistened towelettes that are advertised as flushable, are creating clogs and backups in sewer systems around the nation. The problem has gotten so bad in this upstate New York town that frustrated sewer officials traced the wipes back to specific neighborhoods, and even knocked on doors to break the embarrassing news to residents that they are the source of a costly, unmentionable mess. An industry trade group this month revised its guidelines on which wipes can be flushed, and has come out with a universal stick-figure, do-not-flush symbol to put on packaging. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

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Rob Villee, executive director of the Plainfield Area Regional Sewer Authority in New Jersey, holds up a wipe he flushed through his test toilet in his office. Increasingly popular bathroom wipes – thick, premoistened towelettes that are advertised as flushable – are creating clogs and backups in sewer systems around the nation.

AP

Additional Photos Below

WHAT NOT TO FLUSH

A public awareness campaign by the Orange County Sanitation District in California called "What 2 Flush" emphasizes that the toilet is meant only for the three Ps – pee, poop and toilet paper. It even says facial tissues are too sturdy to be flushed. Among the more unusual items it says people commonly flush that risk causing clogs: cat litter, condoms and dental floss.

A study by the Portland Water District in Maine in 2011 analyzed what was causing clogs in their sewer pipes and came up with this analysis:

42 percent: Paper products, including paper towels

24 percent: Baby wipes

17 percent: Hygiene products, including feminine pads and tampons

8 percent: "Flushable" wipes

Remainder:Other items, including household wipes, cosmetic pads and medical materials.

— The Associated Press

Clogging problems in Waukesha, Wis., prompted the sewer authority there to create a "Keep Wipes out of Pipes" flier. And Ocean City, Md., and Sitka, Alaska, are among cities that have also publicly asked residents not to flush wipes, regardless of whether they are labeled flushable.

The problem got worldwide attention in July when London sewer officials reported removing a 15-ton "bus-sized lump" of wrongly flushed grease and wet wipes, dubbed the "fatberg."

The complaints have prompted a renewed look at solving the problem.

The Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry, the trade group known as INDA, recently revised voluntary guidelines and specified seven tests for manufacturers to use to determine which wipes to call flushable. It also recommends a universal do-not-flush logo — a crossed-out stick figure and toilet — be prominently displayed on non-dispersible products.

The wastewater industry would prefer mandatory guidelines and a say in what's included but supports the INDA initiatives as a start. Three major wastewater associations issued a joint statement with INDA last week to signal a desire to reach a consensus on flushability standards.

"If I'm doing the test, I'm going to throw a wipe in a bucket of water and say it has to disintegrate," said Rob Villee, executive director of the Plainfield Area Regional Sewage Authority in New Jersey.

Nicholas Arhontes, director of facilities support services in Orange County, Calif., has an even simpler rule for what should go down the toilet.

"Only flush pee, poop and toilet paper," he said, "because those are the only things that sanitary sewers were really designed for in the old days."

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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

In this Aug. 16, 2013, photo provided by the city of Vancouver (Wash.), Industrial Pretreatment Coordinator Frank Dick poses with flushable wipes that made it through a test to see if they would break down, at the Westside Wasterwater Treatment Plant. Various bathroom wipes were specially dyed and then sent through the sewer system, but instead of dissolving, most wound up intact.

AP

click image to enlarge

Rob Villee, executive director of the Plainfield Area Regional Sewer Authority in New Jersey, poses with his test equipment in his office in Middlesex, N.J. Increasingly popular bathroom wipes, thick, premoistened towelettes that are advertised as flushable, are creating clogs and backups in sewer systems around the nation. The problem has gotten so bad in this upstate New York town that frustrated sewer officials traced the wipes back to specific neighborhoods, and even knocked on doors to break the embarrassing news to residents that they are the source of a costly, unmentionable mess.

AP

 


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