I guess it’s a testimony to the old adage, “Don’t believe everything you read.” And in the case of a group of intrepid scuba divers in South Carolina, they know this all too well...after completing their most recent assignment.
Professional divers were called in by the Charleston Water District to help them resolve a nasty problem. And when we say ‘nasty’ we are not exaggerating! When the target of their dive is 80 to 90 feet down - in a reservoir of raw sewage - you’ll have to agree that the ‘disgusting’ level goes through the roof.
The problem? Just as they suspected, the culprit was something that many people use as part of their daily bathroom hygiene - flushable wipes! But the manufacturers’ definition of ‘flushable’ is quite different from that of the guys who had to wade through the unrelenting muck to repair the problem.
“You know wipes clog pipes, right? If not, baby wipes clogged a series of large pumps at our Plum Island Wastewater Treatment Plant on Thursday afternoon. Since then, we worked 24/7 to get them out. We started by using a series of bypass pumps to handle the normal daily flow.”
On their expedition, divers also found a baseball and a large piece of metal that somehow found their way into the sewer system. Remarking somewhat tongue-in-cheek, “Don't flush stuff like this,” officials warned. “Joking of course, but you should only flush #1, #2, and toilet paper.”
Dave Torma, a public-works employee in Wyoming explains exactly why the wipes cause such a problem. “After wet wipes are flushed, they exit a house through a lateral pipe that connects to a public sewer system, where sewage pumps ensure that the wastewater flows in the correct direction. But unlike toilet paper, wet wipes fail to disintegrate.”
Then when your wastewater combines with that of thousands of other consumers, it creates major clogs that cannot clear on their own. Thus, the disgusting job description for these divers.
Even though the wipes are theoretically flushable, the current sewer systems of most metropolitan areas are not capable of handling the amount of time it takes for the product to actually disintegrate.
Some communities are working to ban the use of the word, “flushable” on wipes labels in the hopes of curtailing the practice of tossing them in the toilet. Only time will tell if this measure, combined with widespread education, will make any difference in the bathroom habits of Americans.
It's a shame that, even though the U.S. has the best sewer systems in the world, we still manage to have this type of dilemma. And we still have to send people into the muck and mire to solve our self-inflicted and completely preventable problem.
To learn more about this issue, watch the video, below. It details a similar problem in Fargo, North Dakota.