Don’t let the pandemic cause a second catastrophe

Don’t let the pandemic cause a second catastrophe

The list of states issuing warnings is growing as wastewater facilities are reporting blockage problems because residents are flushing items not meant to be flushed. 

Organizations in Texas, California, Massachusetts, and South Carolina are among the latest to issue warnings to people reminding them items like wipes, paper towels, and similar products – including items marketed as “flushable” wipes - will clog sewers and cause backups and overflows at wastewater treatment facilities, creating an additional public health risk, according to a March 20 article on CNN. 


A recent clog in Rockwall, Texas was made 80% from flushable wipes combined with twigs, sticks, a plastic soda bottle, feminine hygiene products, and even a pair of underwear, according to a CBS article on March 17.

There’s been a shortage in toilet paper due to panic, bulk buying, and so some have begun using flushable wipes. But those products, along with disinfecting wipes, aren’t flushable. And while many people are using disinfectant wipes for everything during the COVID-19 pandemic, down the drain of a toilet should be the exception.

And when enough of your neighbors flush them, suddenly your city is welcoming a new resident and its name is Fatberg.

A 14-ton fatberg was recently removed from a wastewater treatment plant in New South Wales. Picture all the natural by-products exiting your body getting tangled in the sewer system with baby wipes, paper towels, and shirts even creating a giant, gut-wrenching, wad of grossness. 

Yes, you can technically flush a lot of things.

But that doesn’t mean once it’s out of sight it will break down, not get stuck and clog pipes.

A clogged pipe could mean a toilet that doesn’t flush or a citywide blockage for you and your neighbors.

"Flushing anything but toilet paper can be harmful to the health of your pipes, as well as the main city pipes that carry waste away and the pump systems located at those facilities," said Aaron Mulder, co-owner and operations manager for Mr. Rooter Plumbing of San Antonio, in a San Antonio Express-News article. "Each year, cities across the globe are faced with hefty costs associated with removing wipes and other non flushable items from plants and sewage systems."

Educating others is so important because there are some of the mindset that once it’s down the drain, it’s no longer a problem. But you’re not the only person who has to deal with the decisions you make, said Randy Lock, Brazos River Authority chief operator of the Temple-Belton Water and Wastewater Treatment Plant.

Say the wipe makes its way to the treatment plant, avoiding creating a fatberg, it still has to be removed, Lock said. Any inorganic material, sand, rocks, wipes, that enters the system, has to be removed, so as not to damage the plan, he said. What can’t be physically removed, is later removed with the help of microorganisms, he said.


And one of the biggest issues the treatment plant has is baby wipes and so-called “flushable” wipes, he said.

“They’ve become very prevalent,” he said. “Everyone uses them now. They're hygiene items. I can't condemn people from using them, but they're not flushable. And they say flushable on them. That's a huge problem. And, consequently, it's one of the things that's a driver as far as the complexity of your operation as far as how you're able to treat the wastewater.”
In 2019, even the dictionary took notice of the problem.

The word “fatberg” first made its appearance in the world in 2008, according to the dictionary. A decade later, it’s now in Merriam-Webster’s dictionary. Depending on your field, you may be more familiar with the stomach-churning, solidified, blockage of a fixture that makes its way into sewer systems despite being preventable.

So just remember, when in doubt, leave it out.