WINCHESTER — With toilet paper hard to find on supermarket shelves, area residents may be tempted to use paper towels or wipes, but these items can create problems for local sewage systems.
The Clarke County Sanitary Authority, Berryville Utilities and Middletown Public Works have all reported increases in nonflushable items being flushed down toilets during the past few weeks. These items include materials that do not break down easily such as rags, paper towels, cleaning/disinfecting wipes, cloth, sponges, tampons, diapers or anything other than toilet paper.
“While these products are always an issue and should never be flushed there has been an increase in the past few weeks, which has created some issues in the system with some of our smaller pump systems,” said Berryville Director of Utilities David Tyrrell. “They are also increasing issues with our main raw sewage pumps getting wrapped up in the pumps at the wastewater facility, but staff has done well to keep up with maintenance.”
Tyrrell said that products advertised as “flushable wipes “are anything but flushable” and advises to never flush these so-called flushable wipes.
“They are convenient ways to clean and disinfect, but they do not break down in the sewer collection system as toilet paper does nor are they septic tank friendly,” Tyrrell said. “They also tend to build up in small low-flow sewer lines, especially those leaving a residence, creating clogs and cause issues for the homeowner as well as further down into the collection system getting into pumps and clogging lines.”
Mary Meredith with the Clarke County Sanitary Authority said the authority has sent reminders to its customers to be mindful of non-flushable and flushable items that may result in costly home plumbing repairs. The Sanitary Authority — which operates public water and sewer systems serving Boyce, Millwood, White Post and commercial uses at Waterloo — has seen a spike of these items being flushed in recent weeks.
Clarke County Sanitary Authority customers have received notices that if a grinder pump fails to function because of the above listed materials, CCSA customers may be responsible for costs associated with repairing the pump, which may run up to $500.
Meredith says that if customers are not be able to obtain toilet paper, they may use non-flushable items, however they should be disposed of in a wastebasket not the toilet so as not to cause any plumbing issues.
Tyrrell said “as distasteful as this may be to use these days with our everything disposable lifestyles” reusing and cleaning cloth is the best bet.
Middletown Public Works Superintendent Les Morefield said the Public Works Department has had to unclog sewage pumps multiple times throughout the week. The town has a wastewater treatment plant at 2480 Third St.
Frederick Water, which provides water and sewer services to more than 16,000 homes and businesses in Frederick County, has not seen a noticeable increase. But Frederick Water Executive Director Eric Lawrence said that the sanitation authority is still urging customers to avoid flushing these items, as it could clog the public sewer system.
“This is an issue that has been happening with sewer systems around the country because the sewer systems are not made to accept anything other than what you eat and toilet paper,” Lawrence said. “So putting cloth and Lysol wipes and tissue and paper towels into the toilet will clog the piping.”
Lawrence said it's the responsibility of the homeowner to fix his or her plumbing, not Frederick Water. Frederick Water only gets involved if public pipes are affected, he said.
Winchester Communications Director Amy Simmons said the city has not seen any increases in the use of other papers in its sewer system and has had no issues.