Educating the public on what not to flush is business as usual for sewer districts, but in the age of social distancing and stay home orders, the battle has never been greater for districts across the U.S. Boothbay Harbor Sewer District Superintendent Chris Higgins said his district’s woes lately are no different.
“The run on toilet paper amid the coronavirus pandemic has led folks to try and find more creative ways to take care of business. Some are resorting to paper towels or buying up cheap washcloths to use, wash and reuse while many are resorting to baby wipes, hand wipes and ‛flushable’ wipes.”
Many districts throughout the country are complaining of used masks and nitrile gloves clogging up sewer lines. While this problem has been minimal for BHSD, the increase of materials other than toilet paper has been causing significant problems down the literal line, said Higgins.
BHSD has responded to three sewer issues in the past couple weeks – Mill Cove and Emery Lane pump stations and the Tupper Road manhole.
The district has also recently cleaned both sequential batch reactors (SBR) and pulled tons of wipes out of the plant which totals over $5,000 in costs to ratepayers.
The BHSD Facebook page is holding a contest for ratepayers to guess the amount of tonnage. The prize is $100 off the winning ratepayer’s next bill.
“If the wipes (or other materials …) clog a line, the pumps stop working and sewer system backups occur. So, everyone who’s upstream from that blockage will be affected.”
Higgins said he, BHSD board members and district crew have tried to communicate the urgency for ratepayers to stop disposing of materials other than human waste and toilet paper, but things have only become worse. Disposable wipes do not break down as advertised, paper towels do not break down before reaching the pumps and grease and oil exacerbate the problems those materials pose as they reach the pumps and SBRs, said Higgins.
“And that is if (the materials) make it that far. They can also get hung up in the customer's plumbing,” Higgins continued. Any blockages should be reported to BHSD before a plumber responds since clogs beyond a property can also disrupt other users.
Said Higgins, “Given so many might be utilizing wipes in the coming days, we wanted to remind everyone that the only thing that you should be flushing, besides the obvious, is toilet paper. But while the shortage exists, toss those so-called ‛flushable’ hand, cleaning and baby wipes into the garbage.”