Disinfectant wipes causing problems for wastewater companies

A month after reminding residents what they can flush down the toilet, Brownstown Wastewater Utility Superintendent Scott Hunsucker is reinforcing it.

With the increase in people using disinfectant wipes due to COVID-19, Hunsucker said he is a seeing a “massive increase” of them in the system at the plant in Brownstown.

Only three things can be flushed down the toilet: Urine, feces and toilet paper.

In the last couple of months, he said there has been an uptick in other items showing up in the main sewer lines and causing problems.

Cleaning wipes, feminine hygiene products, paper towels and other heavy materials should be thrown in the trash, not flushed down the toilet. They can cause sewers to be clogged and backups and overflows of wastewater.

“Those wipes, they’ll say they are flushable. They may get out of the commode, but if they don’t get hung up in the lateral, they get hung up in the main line,” Hunsucker said.

If it makes it to the main line, the main line could get blocked, he said.

Utility workers clean the lift station on Vallonia Road once a month in an effort to prevent issues, but Hunsucker said if items that shouldn’t go down the drain make it to the wastewater treatment plant, they could cause issues there.

“A lot of times, if it’s in the lateral, it’s easy because then we can talk to the homeowner,” he said.

If items clog the main line, though, it’s harder to determine where they originated, he said.

Hunsucker also said grease should not go down the drain. A layer of grease can form and take up half of a sewer pipe’s width, he said.

“Grease in the line, it can shut a line off,” he said. “It won’t take very long to congeal and set up.”

Crothersville Wastewater Utility also recently shared information about an improper item being found in the system: A rubber duck.

“About a year ago, Mr. Ducky made the trip of a lifetime,” a post on the Town of Crothersville Facebook page reads.

“He traveled from his home at an unknown location through the sewer pipes and made a stop at the wastewater treatment plant. Mr. Ducky is back and has a message for everyone. He has seen talk on Facebook of a toilet paper shortage. He noticed people are coming up with creative substitutions — wipes, paper towels, Kleenex, socks.”

The department then reminded people of the three flushable items.

“Mr. Ducky would like to remind everyone that there are only three flushable items: Pee, poo and TP,” the post reads. “He thinks your ideas for substitutes are brilliant, but please do not flush them.”

Indiana American Water also recently warned against the flushing of wrong items, noting the “flushable” wipes being one of the leading causes of clogged pipes.

Flushing any type of paper towels or wipes down the toilet, even those that are labeled flushable or biodegradable, can lead to sewer backups, treatment plant issues and in-home plumbing clogs, the company said in a news release.

“Many sewer blockages occur between the house or business and the utility’s sewer main, where the property owner is responsible for correcting the problem,” Indiana American Water President Matt Prine said.

“We want to help our customers avoid blockages and a costly plumbing emergency,” he said. “While it might seem to make your daily life easier, putting the wrong thing down the toilet or drain can and does cause blockages, which take time and money to fix.”

Indiana American Water also encourages homeowners to use the following tips to avoid sewer clogs and backups:

Avoid flushing all paper towels, flushable wipes and cotton rounds. These items should be thrown in the trash instead.

Your drain pipes are typically only 4 inches at their widest, which makes it easy for things like dental floss, cotton swabs and hair to cause stringy clogs. Always throw these items in the trash and use a strainer in your tub drain to prevent hair clogs.

Items like contact lenses and medication can impact the environment and the wastewater treatment process. Throw all used contact lenses in the trash and take your unused/expired prescription medications to an authorized prescription drug drop-off location.

Never pour fat, oils or grease down your garbage disposal. Instead, allow it to cool and use a rubber scraper to remove these items from cookware, plates, utensils and cooking surfaces. Then place the grease in a sealed container and dispose of it in the trash.

Install baskets or strainers in sink drains to catch food scraps and empty them into the trash.

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More information and tips on the 12 things that should never go down your drain can be found online at the wastewater treatment page at indianaamwater.com.