Fri Aug 14, 2020

Inappropriate items being flushed down toilets are creating problems for town sewer systems

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Since a coronavirus-inspired run on toilet paper, at least three Columbus County towns have seen increased sewer backups, and officials attribute the problem to people flushing things down their toilets which should not be flushed.

“We’ve had three or four blockages this week,” Whiteville City Manager Darren Currie said Friday, “and the only thing we can think of is it’s things like rags and wet wipes and paper towels being flushed into toilets that is causing it. I’m assuming that, because of the run on toilet paper, people are using alternative methods and flushing things down the toilet.”

Currie begged, “Please, please, please don’t put those kinds of things down the toilet. That stuff will not dissolve and it can cause all kinds of problems.”

Chadbourn has experienced even more problems than Whiteville, according to Interim Town Manager Pat Garrell. “Our public works guys are staying busy with one backup after the other. It started the day when the stores began running out of toilet paper,” she said Friday. “I guess that was probably Wednesday, and we had six sewer backups because of it. Then we had them all day yesterday and again today.” 

Tabor City Town Manager Al Leonard said his town had seen a “handful” of backups there but that, “Thankfully, they have been minimal, certainly not as pronounced as what I’ve heard has happened in Whiteville and Chadbourn.” Leonard said he wasn’t aware of any similar issues in any of the other towns he consults – Fair Bluff, Brunswick, Cerro Gordo and Boardman.

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Things like baby wipes, paper towels, tissues and disinfecting wipes are not flushable, even if the packaging says they are, Currie said, and there is a safe alternative for disposing of those items. Such items should be put in a trash bag and placed in the household trash for pickup. “We checked with the Columbus County Health Department before putting this word out,” Currie said, “and Director Kim Smith says it is perfectly fine to bag it up and throw it in the trash if you have to use an alternative method. And, if you think about it, we always have gotten rid of baby diapers that way.” 

Flushing inappropriate items down toilets has become a nationwide problem in recent days, so much so that a Cleveland, Ohio area sewer district sent out a news release agreeing with Currie’s assessment that, even though labels on some products might claim they are “flushable,” that isn’t necessarily so. The Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer district went on to say, “Wipes bind with fats, oils and grease and can wreak havoc on smaller wastewater treatment facilities, clog local sewer systems and harm your home’s plumbing.” 

No town in Columbus County has seen any damages to sewer pumps because of inappropriate articles being flushed into the system, and officials hope to keep it that way. They seek the public’s cooperation because such damage is possible if people continue to dispose of inappropriate material into sewer systems. If such damage occurs, repairs could cost tens of thousands of dollars, Currie said.

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