No matter what a label might say, wipes are not flushable and staff from the Central Contra Costa Sanitary District want residents to know that flushing wipes can only cause damage to pipes and waterways.
To challenge the prevalent misinformation on the flushability of wipes, Central San officials conducted a test of 10 popular North American wipe brands, two imported wipes and one toilet paper sample to spend 30 to 40 minutes traveling through 3,000 feet of active sewer line.
According to Central San officials, the verdict reveals that nine out of 10 so-called flushable wipes do not break down and can cause raw sewage overflows in streets, waterways and homes. In contrast, toilet paper and both foreign imported wipe products completely broke down while traveling through sewer lines.
“Central San and other wastewater utilities continue to spend time and money dealing with wipes when they could be better spent addressing issues such as aging infrastructure. Many wipes products claim to be flushable. Don’t believe the hype. Wipes clog pipes and belong in the trash can,” officials said in a statement.
Central San officials explain that the problem is that once these wipes are flushed they can get hung up on roots and ball together, or become coated in fats and grease allowing for multiple wipes and other items to build into a clog.
If the wipes do make it to a wastewater pumping station or treatment plant, they can gum up pumps and other equipment, which can lead to expensive and time-consuming maintenance that is paid for by the public.
Since 2017, wipes have been the cause of 13 sewage overflows or stoppages and were listed as the primary issue over 250 times during routine maintenance in central Contra Costa County. At one pumping station, Central San crews were forced to take pumps out of service multiple times a week to remove large clogs that resulted from flushed wipes and rags.
The problem has become so severe that moving forward crews are now manually removing wipes from a screen that prevents them from flowing into the pump station. This solution allows pumps to remain operational for nearly a month before large wipe removals are required, but Central San officials say is labor-intensive and time-consuming.
Central San has planned to install grinders at a pumping station to assist and last year spent $8.2 million on upgrades treatment plants headworks facility, but at the moment assistance from the community is the best way to reduce cloggings and create a more effective and functional sanitation system.
The best way to help is to remember to stick with toilet paper over so-called “flushable” wipes.