COVID-19: Sewage could back-up / clog due to wipes and papertowels

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MURFREESBORO: A growing concern for the Murfreesboro Water Resources Department (MWRD), is the excess use of disposable (often labeled flushable) wipes and similar products being flushed into the sewer system, causing major blockages. Due to the current outbreak of COVID-19, stores are experiencing extreme shortages in toilet paper and consumers are resulting to disinfectant wipes, wet wipes, paper towels, and other disposable products as an alternative.

The water department is asking citizens to properly dispose of wet wipes, paper towels, baby wipes, and all other products that could be possibly damaging to the wastewater piping systems.

Although these products are labeled to be "flushable", they are considered to be solid waste and should be disposed as such. Unlike flushing toilet paper, these products simply do not disintegrate in the system and otherwise clog pipes and pumps, cost residents lots of money in maintenance repairs, and cause increased difficulties in labor for plant operations.

"Our sewer pumping stations are one of the downstream ends of the gravity systems and are the most susceptible to blockages from wipes and other materials because that's where they gather. These blockages can cause sanitary sewer overflows onto roadways, private property and streams," says Jimmy Stacey, Wastewater Operations Manager.

"We've had technicians working long hours on our Thompson Lane station trying to unclog the pumps before they cause an overflow upstream. It's important for the public to properly dispose of these items as solid waste."

MWRD is doing its best to inform customers of the potential harm these products cause to the City's sewer systems, and they're encouraging customers to stay safe, but do so by 'ignoring the hype and not flushing wipes.'

Here are a few things you should know:

• Paper towels consistently make up the largest portion of debris found on wastewater system filter screens accounting for almost 50%.

• Many brands of wipes are made from substances like cotton or plastic

• .Packaging for disposable wipes often have warnings - either text saying "do not flush" or a picture of a toilet crossed out. But it is displayed on the back of the packet in small print.

• As an alternative to baby wipes, some parents use cotton or bamboo wipes that can be washed and re-used.

In some cases, these materials contain tiny plastic fibers that can bypass filters and go on to have an even greater environmental impact, ending up in our rivers and streams.

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