Wastewater treatment plants remind people not to flush wipes

  • Greenfield’s Water Pollution Control Plant. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Orange’s Water Pollution Control Plant. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Staff Writer
Published: 3/23/2020 2:47:40 PM

As people across the country stock up on the household items they need to practice social distancing in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, sewage professionals from California to London are warning people not to dispose of “flushable” wipes and other materials down the toilet, as it wreaks havoc on the equipment at treatment plants.

Marlo Warner, director of the Greenfield Department of Public Works, is no different. Warner said the city has seen a significant uptick in the amount of wipes in the sewer system over the past two weeks, when panic began to take hold of the nation.

“Unfortunately, they … don’t degrade like toilet paper,” he said Thursday. “So they do create a significant issue. They get jammed up in the headworks. They get all tied up and it’s pretty labor intensive to get them out.”

Warner cannot say with authority what is causing this increase, but he has a theory: He suspects the closure of schools, bars and various workplaces has kept more parents home with their young children at times when the youngsters would typically have their diapers and soiled clothes changed by professionals at schools or daycare. Also, he thinks the phenomenon of people hoarding toilet paper has forced others to think they must settle for wipes.

“I suspect we’re going to see more of this,” he said. “I don’t see it getting any better unless we can try to remind people not to flush any of these things.”

Warner said just because a package says a wipe is “flushable” does not mean wastewater treatment equipment can handle it. He said this is a year-round problem. Clearing wipes and rags out of equipment can be expensive and labor-intensive.

But the situation might look better out east. Edward Billiel Jr., chief operator of the Orange Wastewater Treatment Facility, said the plant has an issue with wipes, though he has not seen a recent increase.

“We’re praying it won’t get worse,” he said.

The Athol treatment plant is having similar luck, with Chief Operator Rob Sexton crediting a yearly reminder residents are mailed informing them of the hazards of flushing wipes.

He said all seemed fine Wednesday when his crew checked the wet wells, where all sewage flows to, in the town’s seven pump stations. There were also no red flags when workers opened some street manholes to view the sewage flow.

“Fingers crossed, we’re doing alright,” Sexton said. “We’ll check periodically just to make sure.”

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.


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