Pandemic fatbergs: Disposable wipes continue to cause sewer headaches

Apr 2, 2021

CLEVELAND (WJW)– The COVID-19 pandemic sent sales of disposable wipes surging. But that rush to disinfect and toss out cleaning supplies added to an existing problem for sewer systems.

It has local sewer officials reinforcing a familiar refrain: Don’t flush wipes.

“Disposable wipes have been causing issues with plumbing, sewer systems and treatment facilities for years. It’s certainly not new for us.” said John Gonzalez, communication manager for the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District.

Earlier this week, Bloomberg reported on an increase of so-called fatbergs, masses that form in sewers from wipes and congealed grease or cooking fat, during the pandemic. The story noted flushing wipes were to blame for a spike in sewer backups in Des Moines, Iowa, and said Charleston, South Carolina’s water management agency sued major manufacturers for labeling some wipes as “flushable.”

The National Association of Clean Water Agencies estimated wipes contribute to about $441 million a year in additional operating costs for utilities in the United States, according to a September 2020 report.

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