Wipes, paper towels among items clogging sewers

What not to flush: Wipes, paper towels among items clogging sewers

Associated Press
Popular bathroom wipes blamed for sewer clogs
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In this photograph taken, Friday, Sept. 20, 2013, in Middlesex, N.J., Rob Villee, executive director of the Plainfield Area Regional Sewer Authority in New Jersey, holds up a wipe he flushed through his test toilet in his office. Increasingly popular bathroom wipes, thick, premoistened towelettes that are advertised as flushable, are creating clogs and backups in sewer systems around the nation. The problem has gotten so bad in this upstate New York town that frustrated sewer officials traced the wipes back to specific neighborhoods, and even knocked on doors to break the embarrassing news to residents that they are the source of a costly, unmentionable mess. An industry trade group this month revised its guidelines on which wipes can be flushed, and has come out with a universal stick-figure, do-not-flush symbol to put on packaging. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Wastewater officials across the country have been trying to spread the message that not just anything can go down the toilet, and they have recently taken aim at wipes.

A public awareness campaign by the Orange County Sanitation District in California called "What 2 Flush" emphasizes that the toilet is meant only for the three Ps — pee, poop and toilet paper. It even says facial tissues are too sturdy to be flushed. Among the more unusual items it says people commonly flush that risk causing clogs: cat litter, condoms and dental floss.

A study by the Portland Water District in Maine in 2011 analyzed what was causing clogs in their sewer pipes and came up with this analysis:

— 42 percent paper products, including paper towels

— 24 percent baby wipes

— 17 percent hygiene products, including feminine pads and tampons

— 8 percent "flushable" wipes

— Remainder, other items, including household wipes, cosmetic pads and medical materials.

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