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One Easy Solution to Clogged Sewers

January 17, 2014

In the past few years, Clean Water agencies around the country have reported increases in sewer clogs. Lest you think you’re safe from this issue, sewer system failures involve everyone. We as a public are causing the problem, and we as a public are paying for it via health and utilities costs. Clogs cause sewer overflows and require expensive sewer maintenance.

What can we do to help? One solution is very simple: we can stop flushing wipes – or pre-moistened towelettes branded as flushable – down our toilets.

A few Northwest water utilities have put together powerful public service announcements on this issue. This Video, by the City of Spokane, shows how many of the products dubbed “flushable” on their packaging in reality do not break down in our sewers.

In addition to not flushing wet wipes, pre-treatment technician Tracy Stevens suggests that we also not flush kitty litter, dental floss, q-tips, or feminine tampons and pads. These products should all get thrown in the trash.

In its informative page on the topic, the City of Vancouver, Washington, adds to the No Flush List: cleaning rags, reinforced paper towels, baby diapers, surgical or medical bandages and tubing, and prescription drugs.

The only things you should flush down the toilet, says Stevens, “are toilet paper and what comes out of you.”

Out East, the Portland Water District, in Maine, produced a more harrowing video that warns undiscerning flushers to think about the consequences of their actions. The water district says that each year it removes about 200 tons of debris from pump stations. Such debris clogs can levy heavy costs – in the range of millions of dollars – on the utilities that need to clean them or replace pumping machinery.

If you’re still unconvinced of the harm that wipes and other non-degradables are doing to your local sewer system, then check out this page of resources compiled by the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA). The NACWA has dutifully tracked mentions of flushable wipes in media, educational materials, academic studies, industry publications, and presentations.

Conclusion: Wipes are a big problem. But we can all do something about it.

-Cyrus Philbrick

Communications Manager

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