Don't throw wipes in the toilet!
Let’s be honest. No one really wants to think about what happens to the contents of the toilet bowl after it’s flushed. But there are some hardworking folks in our community who do need to spend time considering such matters. And they have issued a warning to us all.
Just because the package says “flushable” doesn’t mean it is. The record rainfall event and subsequent flooding problems experienced in Charleston in October brought to light a rather stinky and messy situation on Daniel Island, according to the very capable staff at the Charleston Water System. Communications Director Jenny Craft tells us that the island suffered several sewer overflows caused by “masses of wipes that clogged pumps” at the wastewater pump station on Daniel Island Drive. They even provided a photo to show us the evidence.
“We’re trying to get the word out to our customers to not flush wipes - even those labeled ‘flushable’ - as they don’t break down in the water like toilet tissue does and can clog our sewer system,” said Craft. “Utilities across the country are experiencing costly problems caused by ‘flushable’ wipes.”
The problem was exacerbated on Daniel Island, explained Baker Mordecai, director of the CWS wastewater collection department, because of the island’s oversized lines.
“The system over there is really sized for 20 years out for our master plan,” he said. “And that development really hasn’t been realized, so we have a lot of oversized lines and there are a lot of areas where these wipes can settle out in our pipes. When the heavy rain hit, we were really surprised at the sheer volume and amount of wipes that were flushed through the system.”
Much of the volume traveled down sewer lines along Clements Ferry Road and into the CWS regional pumping station on Daniel Island.
“On October 3 we started seeing really high levels at our pump station,” said Mordecai. “…Two of the three pumps were clogged with these rags…We haven’t had a history of overflows out there until this event.”
To remove the clogs, workers had to physically remove the wipes from the system’s impellers, which required a tremendous amount of manpower.
“If nobody puts wipes down the toilet, you’re really solving the problem at the source,” added Mordecai. “It’s so much more expensive to handle it once it gets into the system. It impacts our efficiencies on the pumps, and it’s a costly thing for utilities to deal with.”
Mordecai said the problem certainly isn’t unique to Daniel Island. In fact, nationally there is a push by the water and sewer industry to redefine the term “flushable.” In the meantime, he recommends not disposing of any wipes into the toilet. If you need reminding, here’s a catchy campaign message to help you go with the flow: “Only flush number one, number two, and toilet tissue!”