LOCAL NEWS

Clogging The System: What You Flush Could Cost You

Jul 30, 2019, 10:40 PM | Updated: 10:48 pm

SALT LAKE COUNTY, Utah – Most of us probably never think about what we flush. But the convenience of some popular personal hygiene products may come at an overlooked cost to taxpayers.

When you use a toilet, absolutely everything you flush makes its way through a lot of pipes: From your house, to under the street, and eventually a pump station.

Pump stations are designed to move mass amounts of raw sewage from one location to another.

Gross, right?

Here’s something even more gross: Inside these pump stations, 20 feet below the ground and floating on the watery surface, you will find massive clogs.

Clogs nearly two feet thick.

Clogs you need a pitchfork to break-up, and a vacuum to suck up.

Clogs that could push sewage back into your home.

Clogs costing hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage.

And clogs, sewage professionals say, are partially to blame on something people are flushing every single day: Flushable wipes.

Flushable Wipes

“One of our biggest problems with the wipes is it clogs these pumps,” said Ricky Necaise, director of wastewater systems for the Granger-Hunter Improvement District. “And if these pumps aren’t working, we’ve got hours before we’ve got to get them back up and running.”

Necaise gave the KSL Investigators a tour of a pump station in West Valley City, watching as crews spent hours unclogging the system.

He says the flushable wipes are not as advertised, and claims they don’t break down like toilet paper, and often combine with oils and grease in the sewer.

Eventually, he says they begin to grow and grow and grow into a giant clog.

“A lot of people call them fatbergs,” said Necaise, “because it’s just fats, oils and greases that hold together.”

An underground floating “fatberg” of grease and wipes, Necaise says wreaks havoc throughout their system.

Sometimes blocking the pipes, other times destroying pumps, nd for those making it all the way to the sewer plant, it doesn’t get any better.

Just ask Phil Heck, General Manager of Central Valley Water Reclamation Facility.

“They plug up the process. They don’t bio-degrade in the process,” said Heck.

And when he says “they”, he’s referring to flushable wipes.

Cost to Taxpayers

Not a whole lot of people know the sewer better than Heck. He’s been in the business more than three decades and says the sludge that clogs up their system before treatment is expensive.

He claims flushable wipes play a big role in that expense.

After just six years, the South Valley Sewer District spent $143,000 rebuilding pumps, that were supposed to last 20 years.

The Central Valley Sewer Plant spends $72,000 a year to send wipes and other garbage found in the water to the dump.

“Our experience is they’re not biodegradable,” said Heck. “They don’t disperse in the wastewater.”

Putting It to A Test

The KSL Investigators decided to run a little test to see how well the flushable wipes break down.

Here’s how it worked: We bought multiple brands of flushable wipes. We numbered them. We soaked them in a container full of water. Fourteen days later, the lid came off. We also added toilet paper for comparison. That dissolved on contact. But not a single flushable wipe showed signs of breaking down.

Even when we physically ripped them apart, there were no obvious signs the wipes were in the process of breaking down.

“Flushable wipes are made of the same materials as toilet paper,” said Dave Rousse, president of the Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry, a trade group.

Fully defending flushable wipes, Rousse says the wipes were never designed to break down in a tub of stagnant water. He said they need the agitation, or twists and turns and bumps and grinds, of a sewer system.

“And that agitation,” says Rousse, “the agitation will start to pull those wipes apart.”

Industry Research

Rousse says they have the tests to prove it.

He claims flushable wipes are being unfairly blamed for plugging up the system.

In five of their studies, he says the biggest cloggers were paper towels, feminine hygiene products, and non-flushable baby wipes.

“Fewer than one percent of materials that can be identified on the screen can be identified as flushable wipes,” said Rousse. “Flushable wipes are not the problem. As a matter of fact, if every wipe flushed were a flushable wipe, there would be no problems in pipes caused by wipes.”

That is a bold statement.

And maybe he’s right.

But if you ask the sewer maintenance crew in West Valley City, with pitch forks and a giant vacuum trying to destroy one of many massive clogs, they’re not convinced.

Regulation?

There is no government standard on what flushable actually means, and to make one would probably require legislation.

Three years ago, an international coalition advocated for only toilet paper to be flushed. Since then the sewer industry and the wipe manufacturers have tried to work together but haven’t been able to reach common ground.

The Federal Trade Commission settled a complaint against one manufacturer in 2015, saying it needed to prove its flushable wipes were actually flushable. https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/press-releases/2015/11/ftc-approves-final-order-requiring-wet-wipe-manufacturer

The company pulled the product off the shelves.

A lawsuit is also underway. A federal judge in Minnesota is hearing arguments in a class action lawsuit filed in that state by seven sewer systems against two wipe manufacturers.

KSL 5 TV Live

Local News

A photo of a tree blown over in a park in a Nephi from high winds on March 2, 2024, (Craig Oswald)...

Brianna Chavez

Strong winds leave behind damage across Utah

From uprooted trees to flying trampolines, most of the state experienced strong wind gusts that left behind damage for many.

5 hours ago

yellow tape crossing blue and red lights...

Mark Jones

18-year-old arrested for alleged involvement in a shooting death of another person

A 18-year-old man has been taken into custody by police in connection to a shooting late Friday night in South Salt Lake that left one person dead.

8 hours ago

Some residents in Salt Lake County woke up   and in one case, a vehicle.(Mark Less, KSL TV)...

Alex Cabrero

South Jordan residents react to waking up and seeing thousands of tumbleweeds in front of their homes

Homeowners in Daybreak react to waking up Saturday morning and seeing tumbleweeds surrounding their homes.

9 hours ago

Salt Lake City International Airport is also being impacted by the winterstorm moving through Utah....

Mark Jones

Delays, cancelations reported at Salt Lake City International Airport

Salt Lake City International Airport is also being impacted by the winterstorm moving through Utah.

10 hours ago

power outage map...

Cary Schwanitz

Rocky Mountain Power scrambles to repair outages affecting thousands

Rocky Mountain Power crews planned to work around the clock this weekend repairing power lines as winds up to 65 mph pummeled Utah.

11 hours ago

Several people in Salt Lake County woke up to tumbleweeds outside their homes, and not just a dozen...

Alex Cabrero

Tumbleweeds pile up in front of homes in Daybreak

Many people in Salt Lake County woke up to tumbleweeds outside their homes, and not just a dozen or so.

12 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Modern chandelier hanging from a white slanted ceiling with windows in the backgruond...

Lighting Design

Light Up Your Home With These Top Lighting Trends for 2024

Check out the latest lighting design trends for 2024 and tips on how you can incorporate them into your home.

Technician woman fixing hardware of desktop computer. Close up....

PC Laptops

Tips for Hassle-Free Computer Repairs

Experiencing a glitch in your computer can be frustrating, but with these tips you can have your computer repaired without the stress.

Close up of finger on keyboard button with number 11 logo...

PC Laptops

7 Reasons Why You Should Upgrade Your Laptop to Windows 11

Explore the benefits of upgrading to Windows 11 for a smoother, more secure, and feature-packed computing experience.

Stylish room interior with beautiful Christmas tree and decorative fireplace...

Lighting Design

Create a Festive Home with Our Easy-to-Follow Holiday Prep Guide

Get ready for festive celebrations! Discover expert tips to prepare your home for the holidays, creating a warm and welcoming atmosphere for unforgettable moments.

Battery low message on mobile device screen. Internet and technology concept...

PC Laptops

9 Tips to Get More Power Out of Your Laptop Battery

Get more power out of your laptop battery and help it last longer by implementing some of these tips from our guide.

Users display warnings about the use of artificial intelligence (AI), access to malicious software ...

Les Olson

How to Stay Safe from Cybersecurity Threats

Read our tips for reading for how to respond to rising cybersecurity threats in 2023 and beyond to keep yourself and your company safe.

Clogging The System: What You Flush Could Cost You