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With the proliferation of wipes -- both for cleaning and personal hygiene -- and the panic over the pandemic of the coronavirus known as covid-19, some communities are facing additional problems related to residents flushing the wipes into the sewer system.

"They're definitely not flush-able and they mess everything up," Ken Hayes, superintendent of the Pea Ridge Water and Wastewater Department, said. "They're in the system and we've been snagging 'em."

Hayes said his employees have been proactive and began flushing sewer lines last week knowing that there would be an increase in wipes in the system because of the current situation. He said that typically, they seldom have a sewer back up, maybe only about four or five times a year, but this past weekend, there were numerous notifications about problems with lift stations.

"The lift stations are the problem," he said. "That's where we have the problem. They're (wipes) real fine and they're real strong."

Hayes said wipes, paper towels, facial tissue, oil and grease are enemies to the system.

"Absolutely no wipes! None whatsoever," he said, explaining that even paper towels and facial tissues have chemicals on them that prevent them from breaking down easily -- that wipes will clog a lift station, binding the blades and causing the motors to overheat. "Toilet paper will turn to mulch. Wipes, baby wipes will shut down a pump on a lift station."

"Wipes -- they've always been a problem for us, but what we're seeing right now is much worse," he said. "Even with sharp blades on the grinder pumps, it will shut them down."

Hayes said that using SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) and other technology, he and his staff have the capability of knowing almost immediately if there's a problem in the system.

"If there's a problem, we're going to be notified by our cell phone and the duty guy gets a call and gets out there immediately," Hayes said. "We have the systems to inform us."

"A lot of municipalities don't have the telemetry that we do," Hayes said. "If we didn't have that, it would be a nightmare."

When notified of a problem, the field employees on duty go to the lift station, pull it, remove the clog and replace the station. Hayes said safety requires there to be two employees when a lift station is pulled.

"In a situation like that, you need two guys to do that for safety. If you've got that going on like we did this weekend -- in talking to the guys, it's a mess," Hayes said.

Cleansing wipes are made of materials such as polyester, polypropylene, cotton, wood pulp or rayon fibers formed into sheets. They are moistened with water and other ingredients, such as cleansing and moisturizing agents that help them work. They may contain other ingredients, such as preservatives to prevent the growth of bacteria and molds, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

Some wipes are governed by the Environmental Protection Agency, some by the Consumer Product Safety Commission and some by the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research.

Hayes said that over the 15 years he's been manning the Pea Ridge system, he's seen an increase in the problems caused by wipes.

"We know the problem areas," he said of the sewer system explaining that some lines are older and some are flatter and he and his team focus on those to jet -- clean out with extremely high pressure.

"That's one of the reasons we jetted last week," he said. "We very seldom have a sewer back up. In a typical month, we do not have any -- usually four or five in a year."

"Jetting is basically going into a line and putting high pressure jetter hose to clean the lines and break anything up that could cause a clog," he said, using 1,200 psi water pressure.

"It really cleans the line out -- breaks it up and sends it out to the plant," Hayes said.

The technology used by Pea Ridge Water Utilities Department makes the job easier for the men in the field.

"We're being proactive out in the field. We'd rather resolve a problem before," Hayes said. "... rather spend the time up front to prevent it from happening."

"They -- the field workers -- do a super job," Hayes said, citing Aaron David, Alex Oaks, Christopher Schmidt, Colter Stephens, Jeremiah Cotton, Jacob Wagner, Kurtis Wiltgen and Roy Wade.

Hayes said the men will probably jet 10 to 15% of the lines -- lines that are a little flatter or old lines that may have a bit of "swag" to them.

He said the oldest engineering drawings for the sewer lines are from the 1960s and some of those lines are still good whereas others have been replaced.

The local terrain affects gravity flow lines. Pea Ridge is on a plateau. Sewer lines on hills are less likely to clog than the flat lines on the top of the plateau.

Ironically, Hayes said the men have found clothing items and a t-shirt recently in the pump stations.

"When you see the guys, just ask them," he said, reiterating that city sewer customers should not put anything down a toilet except toilet paper.

In Siloam Springs, wastewater superintendent Thomas Myers said that although packaging on 90% of wipes say they are flush-able, they are not intended to be disposed in the municipal sewer system. They clog lines and damage lift station pumps.

Myers said the pumps are used to transport wastewater to the municipal wastewater facility to clean the contaminated water and that clogged lines cause the collection system to not work properly and back up. City crews have had pumps damaged from disposables and flush-able wipes along with paper towels in collection system.

City employees then have to have them repaired associated to wipes and other paper products being flushed into municipal system.

General News on 03/25/2020

Print Headline: Wipes clog sewer system

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