The popularity of flushable wipes has seen a drastic increase recently in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. But while they may be marketed as flushable, the City of Delaware is pleading with the community to not put the wipes in the toilet in order to prevent potentially costly repairs for both residents and the city down the line.
“Unfortunately, the way they are marketed is that they are flushable,” Community Affairs Coordinator Lee Yoakum said. “Well, sure they are flushable. They go down the drain and you don’t see them anymore … flushable means they are flushable, supposedly, through a house’s inner plumbing. But they aren’t flushable once they get into the next step of the process, which is in our (sewer) lines, pumps, and lift stations. That’s where (the wipes) become damaging.”
Blake Jordan, director of the city’s Public Utilities Department, said that even before they can damage the city’s system, the wipes still often damage the plumbing in homes despite being marketed as safe to flush.
Yoakum said the problem with the disposal of the wipes, which are made of fibrous material, is that the wipes are not biodegradable. Instead, the fibers of the wipes string out but still largely stay intact. “Really, it’s more of a cloth that just does not break down,” he said.
Sewage systems are not pressurized, instead relying on gravity to move waste through the lines. Yoakum said that due to the flatness of Delaware, simply relying on gravity to move the waste will not suffice in some areas. Lift stations exist in those areas to lift the sewage and get it flowing once more. City crews are sent to those stations weekly to make sure they are not plugged, and to open the stations up if there is a clog.
Last spring, the city had to repair one of its four, 3,000-pound pumps due to a backup caused in large part because of wipes being flushed. The repairs left the city footing a bill of approximately $30,000 worth of repairs.
The outbreak of COVID-19 has only compounded the city’s issue as citizens have developed a heightened sense of personal hygiene and preventative measures, as well as maybe even turning to wipes as an alternative means for toilet paper, given the shortage.
In light of those concerns, the Delaware General Health District (DGHD) posted a graphic to its social media pages reminding residents of the potentially costly damages resulting from flushing wipes. Among the key points, the DGHD graphic points out that the wipes getting caught in the machinery will cause the motors of the pumps to burn up. Placing wipes in the system will also void the system’s warranty, the graphic states.
“It’s an elevated risk because people are buying a lot of paper products right now, and a lot of different kinds,” Yoakum said. “They probably don’t intend to buy wipes and use them in that way, but we understand that if there is a shortage of toilet paper, families are going to need to do what they need to do, and that’s fine. We just ask that they don’t drop them down the toilet.”
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.