Launch Slideshow

Every Monday and Thursday Orange County Sanitation District crews remove nondispersibles from three pump stations, a preventive maintenance task that takes two employees up to two hours to complete. This is a 200-hp, 880-rpm Fairbanks Morse 5713 with three vanes and a 24.38-inch impeller.

Strangled by disposables

Strangled by disposables

  • Wet wipes and other nonwoven fabrics in sanitary sewers

    In California, Central Contra Costa Sanitary District crews use a three-tined handheld gardening tool to separate pump clog debris into components like these.

    http://www.pwmag.com/Images/tmp580A%2Etmp_tcm111-1590611.jpg

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    In California, Central Contra Costa Sanitary District crews use a three-tined handheld gardening tool to separate pump clog debris into components like these.

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    Ingrid Hellebrand

    In California, Central Contra Costa Sanitary District crews use a three-tined handheld gardening tool to separate pump clog debris into components like these.

  • Fairbanks Morse pump clog

    Every Monday and Thursday Orange County Sanitation District crews remove nondispersibles from three pump stations, a preventive maintenance task that takes two employees up to two hours to complete. This is a 200-hp, 880-rpm Fairbanks Morse 5713 with three vanes and a 24.38-inch impeller.

    http://www.pwmag.com/Images/tmp580D%2Etmp_tcm111-1590614.jpg

    true

    Every Monday and Thursday Orange County Sanitation District crews remove nondispersibles from three pump stations, a preventive maintenance task that takes two employees up to two hours to complete. This is a 200-hp, 880-rpm Fairbanks Morse 5713 with three vanes and a 24.38-inch impeller.

    600

    Ingrid Hellebrand

    Every Monday and Thursday Orange County Sanitation District crews remove nondispersibles from three pump stations, a preventive maintenance task that takes two employees up to two hours to complete. This is a 200-hp, 880-rpm Fairbanks Morse 5713 with three vanes and a 24.38-inch impeller.

  • Pump station mechanic Gilbert Padilla

    Senior Mechanic Gilbert Padilla pulls out stubborn materialc. Labor cost for one year for 971 such preventive or corrective de-ragging actions at 10 of 15 pump stations: $320,000.

    http://www.pwmag.com/Images/tmp580E%2Etmp_tcm111-1590615.jpg

    true

    Senior Mechanic Gilbert Padilla pulls out stubborn materialc. Labor cost for one year for 971 such preventive or corrective de-ragging actions at 10 of 15 pump stations: $320,000.

    600

    Ingrid Hellebrand

    Senior Mechanic Gilbert Padilla pulls out stubborn materials. Labor cost for one year for 971 such preventive or corrective de-ragging actions at 10 of 15 pump stations: $320,000.

  • Goulds Pumps Model 12x14-19

    Despite extremely simplified messaging to flush only the 3 Ps (pee, poo, and toilet paper) Californias Orange County Sanitation District routinely pulls and cleans pumps to avert sewage spills. This is a 75-hp, 880-rpm Goulds Pumps 12x14-19 with three vanes.

    http://www.pwmag.com/Images/tmp580F%2Etmp_tcm111-1590616.jpg

    true

    Despite extremely simplified messaging to flush only the 3 Ps (pee, poo, and toilet paper) Californias Orange County Sanitation District routinely pulls and cleans pumps to avert sewage spills. This is a 75-hp, 880-rpm Goulds Pumps 12x14-19 with three vanes.

    600

    Ingrid Hellebrand

    Despite extremely simplified messaging to flush only the “3 Ps” (pee, poo, and toilet paper) California’s Orange County Sanitation District routinely pulls and cleans pumps to avert sewage spills. This is a 75-hp, 880-rpm Goulds Pumps 12x14-19 with three vanes.

Editor’s note: Every time my seventh-grade gym teacher referred to a tampon, she’d hold it up, stare us down, and say: “Never, ever, flush this — or the applicator — down the toilet.” Whether she was required to say it or married to a plumber, I don’t know. Didn’t matter. We got the message.

We need to re-educate people about what can and can’t be flushed. Toilets are more robust than when I was in junior high (and no, I’m not telling you the year). Back then property owners clogged their own plumbing; today our sanitary sewer systems are taking the hit.

This article talks a lot about wet wipes, but they’re not the only culprit. Like toilet paper, which disintegrates in about 1 minute, some wipes disperse rapidly. But many other items do not. According to Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry (INDA) field tests with wastewater utilities, nondispersibles break down as:

  • 50% paper towels from public restrooms; they get to the treatment plant relatively intact and build up on bar screens
  • 25% baby wipes
  • 25% feminine hygiene, household cleaning, and cosmetic wipes; tampon strings wrap around other stuff to create a solid mass of material.

The public “demands” convenience, but only because nonwoven fabrics enable The Procter & Gamble Co., Kimberly-Clark Corp., and other companies to dispense household cleaners, fabric softeners, hemorrhoid cream, and hundreds of other consumer packaged goods via a single sheet, or wipe. In 2002, the market for wet wipes was worth $2 billion. This year, according to The New England Consulting Group of Norwalk, Conn., it’s $5 billion. Five years from now: $6.5 to $7 billion.

Companies market them as “flushable,” “biodegradable,” and “safe for sewers and septic systems,” but I wouldn’t be writing this if they’re also dispersible; i.e., dissolvable in water. Here’s how the wastewater industry is responding.

Additionally, learn how four utilities are keeping ‘flushables’ from clogging pumps.

— Stephanie Johnston

Next page: one utility’s $320,000 liability