WARRENSBURG — The City of Warrensburg is asking residents to not flush disinfecting wipes and paper towels down toilets as people disinfect residences and businesses during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
The city made a Facebook post March 16 illustrating what should not be flushed down the toilet.
Wastewater Treatment Plant Operations Manager Phil Adlich said wipes, paper towels and facial tissue do not behave the same as toilet paper in the wastewater system.
“The non-flushable items do not dissolve like toilet paper,” Adlich said. “Kleenexs stay together. Paper towels stay together. Even the flushable wipes, they stay together. So, they collect fat, oil and grease and then they start sticking to things and when they do not dissolve, like toilet paper, they get stuck in the pumps, they get stuck in the pipes. They build up and they’ll get stuck to the walls of pipes and eventually it closes the pipe off (and) causes back-ups.”
Adlich said the city has not seen a significant increase in non-flushable items in the wastewater system, but these items do have the potential to cause mechanical problems.
“Whenever it gets stuck to the propellers of the pumps, it floods up the pump, therefore water cannot go through,” Adlich said. “We have to remove that equipment. Spend hours getting it dislodged, cleaned out. If it makes it all the way to the plant, we do have equipment that removes some of it, not all of it. Some of it will get through, but then it gets sent to the landfill. It fills up our dumpster faster.”
The main difference between toilet paper and other paper products and disposable wipes is toilet paper is designed to dissolve in water.
“They don’t dissolve like toilet paper,” Adlich said. “Toilet paper dissolves, breaks apart and comes through the system. Anything else does not.”
Assistant City Manager Danielle Dulin said an experiment that can be done at home is to take two mason jars full of water and place some toilet paper in one and a flushable wipe in the other to see the difference in how they break down.
“Folk don’t necessarily realize that they actually own the sewer line from their house until it gets to the main,” Dulin said. “And that pipe is actually smaller than our main. So, a lot of times those flushable wipes, paper towels, things that shouldn’t go down there, they will actually get caught in the private lateral, private sewer line, before they even get to us, causing damage to homeowners.”
The issue of not flushing flushable wipes has been an ongoing issue for many municipalities across the country and other countries.
One of the most notable instances was the “fatberg” in the sewers of the East End of London, United Kingdom.
In 2017, the New York Times reported the mass took up as much as a sixth-of-a-mile of sewer, weighed more than 140 tons and consisted of fat, disposable wipes, diapers, condoms and tampons.
“We want to get it out there that you do not flush anything but toilet paper,” Adlich said.