Daily Progress, Jacksonville, TX

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July 1, 2014

Flushing wet wipes can lead to sewer problems

JACKSONVILLE — Late this past year, the Thames Water Company removed a 15-ton “fatberg” from London sewers. The mass was mostly made up of decaying food matter, grease and wet wipes – discovered after residents in Kingston, Surrey, complained about unflushable toilets.

"While we've removed greater volumes of fat from under central London in the past, we've never seen a single, congealed lump of lard this big clogging our sewers before," Gordon Hailwood, waste contracts supervisor for Thames Water said in September of last year in a release published by NBCNews.com. London's sewer cleanup lasted three nights with the crew working overnight.

Officials with the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA) report flushed wet wipes are overtaking solidified cooking grease as the most costly clog causing item in some parts of the U.S., and that the combination of grease and wet wipes are the one-two punch that knocks out numerous sewer systems every year.

And London isn’t the only city with trouble brewing in its pipes. A truckload of cloth wipes were removed from a plant in Minnesota earlier last year, and in Raleigh, N. C., wipes continue to be the biggest source of sewer blockages. The city of Jacksonville also experienced problems earlier this year at one lift station when wipes caused a blockage.

"It wasn't a huge problem, fortunately," Jacksonville City Utilities Director David Brock said. "We sent out notices to the residents in that area, reminding them not to flush things like that and we've not had that problem there again. People just don't think about these things."

Water system officials said the wipes are troublesome because they don't come with a "don't flush" warning and unlike sheets of toilet paper – which dissolve when they're dunked in water and shaken about -- wet wipes last longer.

“We're seeing a few (in the system) but luckily, it's not causing us an on-going problems right now," Rusk Public Works Director Thomas Thompson said.

"We don't want it to become a problem, so people need to remember – if it's not toilet paper, it just shouldn't

be flushed."

Both municipal officials said it's not just the paper products that potentially cause trouble down the lines. Items, they said, that seem flushable but aren’t include diapers; feminine hygiene products; cotton swabs; cloth of any kind; condoms; cat litter; and other paper items that aren’t designed to dissolve quickly.

They also remind citizens not to pour grease of any kind or other kinds of cooking oils down the drain.

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