Coronavirus: California issues warning about disinfecting wipes

As Americans are stockpiling disinfecting wipes and paper towels to clean their homes more to reduce the risk of coronavirus, California’s state water regulators on Tuesday urged them to keep one thing in mind: Don’t flush them down the toilet.

Wipes and paper towels do not break down like toilet paper does in water. They are stronger, and some wipes include plastics and materials like nylon. And that means bad news for sewer systems.

“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,” the California’s State Water Resources Control Board said. “Even wipes labeled “flushable” will clog pipes and interfere with sewage collection and treatment throughout the state.”

They should be thrown away in the trash after use, the agency said.

The wipes, which kill most bacteria and viruses, are in huge demand due to the spread of COVID-19. And that has wastewater experts concerned.

“In normal times when folks aren’t at home all day long, these wipes cause problems,” said Jessica Gaugher, legislative director for the California Association of Sanitary Agencies. “But now that we have people at home all day long, we are preparing ourselves for what might be coming.”

The wipes can wrap around tree roots and broken joints in sewer laterals between people’s homes and the street, causing toilets to back up. They can tangle in motors at wastewater plants, and cause sewage spills.

So far, she said, wastewater plants around the state are handling the load.

But wipes already cost California cities and other government agencies at least $50 million a year in costs to untangle pumps, clear blocked sewer mains and increased maintenance to remove them at wastewater plants, she added, and the risk is high now that the problem could get worse.

A bill pending in the California Legislature, AB 1672 by Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica, would require the makers of wipes to put a label on packages saying they should not be flushed.

New York City spends $20 million a year breaking up large clogs in sewer lines that are often caused by wipes. Workers in London have removed enormous blockages of grease, wipes and other debris nicknamed “fatbergs” — some of which are as big as city buses — from that city’s underground Victorian-era sewage pipes. American sewer plant workers also call such clogs “turkeys.”

Bay Area cities have struggled as well. Officials who oversee wastewater treatment plants say the last thing needed now is to have sewer systems needlessly face problems.

“As people are sheltering in place, if we don’t get them to understand that we don’t want them to flush those materials, we could see an increase” in sewer system problems, said Kerrie Romanow, director of environmental services for the city of San Jose. “We want people to keep surfaces clean and to disinfect, but we want them to put paper products into the trash can.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Source:: The Mercury News – Lifestyle


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