The battle of the baby wipes
There has been an ongoing war in the Boothbay peninsula, waged between the Boothbay Harbor Sewer District and a seemingly innocuous object — baby wipes.
Over the years, Boothbay Harbor Sewer District Superintendent Chris Higgins has seen it all. Baby wipes have blocked up sewer lines and plugged up pump stations in Boothbay Harbor and Boothbay, creating a nuisance for the district. Between the damages to infrastructure and the costs of extricating the blockages, Higgins estimated the district spent about $5,000 to $6,000 last year.
When baby wipes first came on the market in the early 1990s, they wreaked havoc on public sewer systems. The problem persisted when the supposed “flushable” wipes were introduced. In reality, baby wipes are “nondispersable,” meaning they don't dissolve.
From Chapel Street in Boothbay to the pump stations on Emery Lane and the footbridge, baby wipes have caused exceptional wear and tear. Although the pumps are equipped with grinders to break down solids, the wipes are woven with polyester which gets bound up between the blades.
During the last cold snap, a baby wipe froze to a float switch inside a pump station. The ice had accumulated and the float switch could not sink with the water level. The pump never shut off and drained the well dry.
But baby wipes are not the only culprit.
“You'd be surprised at what you'd find,” Higgins said. “Paper towels, grease rags, feminine hygiene products, cotton balls, golf balls, bandages, syringes, kitty litter. People put everything down there because it goes away. Out of sight and out of mind.”
The battle of the nondispersables rages on, and not only affect public sewers, but private septic systems. Recently the Maine Wastewater Control Association has fought back by educating the public.
“It's preventable, that's the thing,” Higgins said. “It's an education process, and it's just that people need to change their habits.”
On January 21, the MWWCA will kick off a “Don't Flush Baby Wipes” pilot education campaign culminating with a press conference in Westbrook at 11 a.m.
While informational fliers have traditionally been sent out with the quarterly bills in our region's district, Higgins said there will be an increased media presence supporting the statewide campaign.
For more information on the educational pilot campaign, visit www.mwwca.org.