October 04, 2013 - 8:30 AM
WIPES CLOG PIPES
OKANAGAN FALLS - Keeping unflushable crap out of the toilet is the message being dumped on people with bad poop policies.
New flushable wipes intended for adults are not only lining store shelves, they are also curling around sewage equipment. What was intended to make things smoother in the bathroom is in danger of backing-up multi-million dollar sewer systems.
It's time for a new addition to the old rhyme: If it's yellow, let it mellow. If it's brown, flush it down, but not a wipe, it clogs the pipe.
Flushable wipes are putting several Okanagan Falls sewer pumps in danger of seizing Regional Director Okanagan Similkameen engineer Liisa Bloomfield said. A two-man crew maintains one set of pumps one day a month. Since adult flushable wipes were introduced, the staff now service their pumps every three days. And it's not just a local problem, it causes trouble everywhere. A 15-ton blob of baby wipes and congealed fat was recently blasted out of a damaged London sewer tunnel.
Bloomfield said new flushable wipes do not break down fast enough. Inside an underground septic tank it's fine as there is no machinery to clog and there's enough time for the fabric to disintegrate. It's a different story when wipes are flushed and banished from the porcelain throne.
When a toilet refuses to drain and overflows it only gets messy and smelly. If a sewer cannot pass flushable wipes, and it's not corrected, it could mean environmental contamination with sewer water backing up into lakes or onto private property.
"If it’s not pee, poop or toilet paper, it shouldn’t go into the bowl," Bloomfield said. Condoms, cooking oils, grease and plastic bags are also on the district's list with dental floss and tampons being the worst. They're like 'cling-ons:' The products' strings can clog pipes and wrap around equipment just as well as wipes.
“If the sewer pumps are clogging, the stuff in the pipes has to go somewhere. And the only way that’s open is back up the line.”
When a pump does seize, staff have only an hour or two to fix the problem. If the crap hits the fan and a pump busts, it costs $5,000 to $10,000 for a replacement.
Getting people to realize the problem might be difficult though. Bloomfield says people have been flushing the wrong stuff for years. She admits she's guilty of flushing baby wipes herself before she was aware of the damage they could cause.
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