During the coronavirus outbreak, using disinfecting wipes to kill germs is more important than ever as people try to avoid contracting COVID-19. However, in California, the State Water Resources Control Board recently sent out a warning about flushing disinfecting wipes down the toilet. When you flush toilet paper, the material breaks down. This isn’t the case when you flush wipes or paper towels. In fact, wipes have plastics, nylon, and other materials that stay intact and contribute to problems in sewer systems.
The Problem with Wipes
California state water regulators recently sent out the following message:
“Flushing wipes, paper towels and similar products down toilets will clog sewers and cause backups and overflows at wastewater treatment facilities, creating an additional public health risk in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.”1
The wipes you flush might not cause immediate trouble at home. It is at wastewater treatment facilities where they clog up the lines and cause backups and overflows. Officials have even warned against using “flushable” wipes as they too can clog pipes. A back up in a treatment facility can prevent wastewater plants and sewer collection systems from operating, a problem that is occurring throughout the state.
Common wipes, which kill most viruses and bacteria, should always be discarded in the trash.
The Mounting Cost
According to an official with the California Association of Sanitary Agencies, before the coronavirus crisis, at least $50 million a year was being spent by cities and government agencies to address blocked sewer mains, untangle pumps, and remove blockages caused by disinfecting wipes at pump stations.2 People who are sheltering in place may be contributing to the damage caused by synthetic materials they are discarding via their plumbing system.
Action is being taken at the legislative level. As Congress has worked to provide coronavirus relief in the form of a $2 trillion stimulus package, a bill (AB 1672) by the California state legislature is now pending. Penned by Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica, it would require manufacturers of wipes to label their packages to warn consumers not to flush them.
“Flushable” Wipes Aren’t Safe
The warnings are not limited to California. Water, sewer, and public works agencies in Ohio, Massachusetts, and South Carolina have issued similar warnings, while New York City spends millions annually to break up sewer line clogs caused by wipes. Disinfecting wipes are made of synthetic materials and combine with various personal hygiene products and discarded grease in sewer lines. The International Water Services Flushability Group said, that to be flushable, wipes must quickly break down into small pieces, not be buoyant, and contain only degradable materials. However, there are so many types of wipes on the market it’s hard for people to tell which ones are what.
At the same time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended the disinfection of surfaces in homes. These include doorknobs, countertops, and tables as well as frequently used items such as light switches and TV remote controls.
Trust Detour Plumbing to Keep Your Pipes Clear
In a recent CNN article, Harmeet Kaur said it best: “Save your pipes. Don’t flush wipes.” Trash such as wipes flushed down toilets can pass your drain and flow through pipe, but contribute to sewer damage such as broken joints and grease and fat buildup, and trouble such as sewage spills that can negatively impact the environment and wreak havoc on your local street. Clogging by wipes can cause as severe a blockage as tree roots. But also consider the ability of wastewater plants to do their job during a challenging time.