Wipes wrecking Deerfield’s sewer system

  • A clogged catch basin in a South Deerfield pump station. Contributed Photo/Henry Komosa

Recorder Staff
Tuesday, April 11, 2017

SOUTH DEERFIELD — Disenfectent wipes are destroying the town’s sewer system one toilet flush at a time, adding tens of thousands of dollars per year in repair costs.

“It costs the town on average $30,000 to $20,000 per year,” Selectman Henry “Kip” Komosa said Monday, pointing to a picture on his cell phone of a catch basin in a pump station on Captain Lathrop Drive overflowing with two days worth of flushed wipes. “If it wasn’t for these, maintenance would be about $500.”

Last year, Komosa — who’s also chair of the town’s Sewer Study Committee, which is currently looking into the problem — said the town spent about $25,000 on preventable maintenance costs.

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, “cleansing wipes are made of materials such as polyester, polypropylene, cotton, wood pulp, or rayon fibers formed into sheets … moistened with water and other ingredients, such as cleansing and moisturizing agents that help them work.”

While some packages advertise wipes as biodegradable or flushable, Komosa said they either don’t break down quickly or sufficiently enough, or weren’t meant to be flushed in the first place. Either way, this forces town maintenance workers to remove the dirty wipes from machinery and unclog pipes by hand to get backed up systems back up and running before parts are broken, he said.

“Someone actually has to rake out those wipes and put them into a dumpster. It’s a major problem, and a major expense,” Komosa said.

The town’s sewer system is gravity fed, flowing downhill to a sewage treatment plant next to the Connecticut River, near the Sunderland Bridge. Captain Lathrop Drive has the system’s only pump, necessary because the roughly 40 homes in that area are geographically lower than the sewer main on North Main Street.

Even though the pump station serves a limited amount of homes, Selectboard Chair Caroyln Shores Ness said “all sewer users pay for replacements. It’s burning money, and all people have to do is put wipes in the trash, and not in the toilet.”

The pump station is especially bad, she continued, but the problem persists elsewhere throughout the system.

“We’ve sent letters out — we’ve done all kinds of things. And we’re still getting stuff coming in. It’s a huge, nasty problem,” Ness said, noting the problem has persisted “for years,” despite continuous efforts to educate residents. “We’ve done so much outreach. And it’s frustrating,” she said.

To prevent further damage to the system that could eventually cause larger problems — which would cost taxpayers a substantial amount of money — Komosa said the Sewer Study Committee is “looking to build what’s called a ‘headworks project’ to clear stuff out before the plant.” A headworks project is essentially a place where debris is removed before sewage is treated, allowing the system to work smoothly.

As of yet, Komosa couldn’t estimate how much that cost might be as it’s too early to project numbers, he said. Meanwhile, town officials are asking residents to stop flushing disposable wipes down the toilet.