Officials in Safford and Pima are asking residents to think twice before they throw so-called “flushable” baby wipes and personal hygiene wipes down the toilet.
There is just too much potential for them to cause a clog in your residential pipes, or even in main sewage and wastewater pipes, they said.
“They just don’t break down, it’s incredible,” said Morgan Seale, the water division manager for the city of Safford, “You keep flushing wet wipe after wet wipe, and pretty soon you’ll have a plug.”
Wet wipes can stick to the side of people’s drains, especially older pipes, causing clogs, and backups, in residential homes, Seale said. If they don’t get stuck there, they make their way down to the city’s wastewater treatment plant, where a slot that’s supposed to catch inorganic material in the city’s waste system sometimes fails to catch them.
When that happens the wet wipes end up in ditches and canals.
Earlier this month, the Washington Post reported 10,200 gallons of untreated sewage reached a creek in Silver Spring, Maryland after an estimated 160 pounds of wipes plugged a pipe.
The Post quoted officials who said the wipes can congeal with grease and other cooking fats improperly sent down drains and can form massive “fatbergs” that block pumps and pipes, causing backups.
Although there have been national stories on the phenomenon since the pandemic began, Seale said the issue predates COVID-19.
Pima Town Manager Sean Lewis said although Pima hasn’t had any major problems, workers have seen a considerable amount of wet wipes stacked up in baskets meant to catch inorganic waste in the town’s lagoon style wastewater treatment facility over the past decade.
There’s been a slight increase since the pandemic began, he said.
“We have baskets that catch things like feminine hygiene products and wet wipes and things like that, and wet wipes are 80 to 90% of what gets caught in our baskets,” Lewis said.
More than just wet wipes and other sanitary products labelled “flushable” though, Lewis said the biggest problems he’s seen is people flushing Lysol and other heavy disinfectant wipes down their toilets. The potential for them to clog residential and municipal sewer systems is higher than wet wipes.
Lewis’ and Seale’s solution? Just throw your wet wipes and disinfectant wipes in the trash please.
“They say it’s flushable,” Seale said, “but they just don’t break down like toilet paper.”