NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WSMV) -Metro Nashville Water Service is reminding people not to flush flushable wipes.
The department said the wipes don’t break down like toilet paper, and the wipes affect sewer treatment equipment and could cause backups in the system.
“Just because it flushes doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily flushable doesn’t mean that it biodegrades like toilet paper and other things do in a sewer system,” said Sonia Allman with Metro Water Services
Nashville’s water service has three wastewater treatment plants and 118 pumping stations. The pumping stations are where the machines go down into the sewage, bring up debris and scrape more extensive materials like wipes and rags out of the system.
“It hits the conveyor belt and goes down where it then goes into essentially a compactor that pushes it out into a truck, and we haul that off to a landfill,” said Allman. “Once a week, we’re taking an entire truckload of non-flushable to a landfill that has made their way into a sewer system. The wash-press actually compacted and pushed it out into a truck. Here in the truck behind me, you can see there’s quite a bit of debris that we don’t want in the sewer system. That truck is emptied every week. Every week, we’re getting that amount of material that we’re talking to a landfill of things that should not be in the sources, and that is only at this facility alone,” she added.
Allman said when the flushable wipes get into the sewer system, it rips and tangles into ropes.
“Those ropes get entangled in that and wrapped around it, and the only way to remove them is to shut that piece of equipment down and have someone go in there and manually cut that away to remove it. So not only is it a job that no one wants to do, it causes damage potentially to our equipment,” Allman said. “It cuts down on the amount of time that we can use that equipment to treat waste. And unfortunately, several times before it even makes it to our treatment plant, it causes overflows in the community,” she added.
News 4 asked if the problem is that Nashville’s system is old and can’t handle the wipes. Allman said that isn’t the case, and flushable wipes aren’t just a Nashville sewer problem.
“So, it’s not just a Nashville problem. It’s a problem that every sewage treatment plant in the United States and elsewhere is having not only wipes,” Allman said
News 4′s Tosin Fakile asked if there is a possibility that water systems across the country could talk to flushable wipes manufacturing companies about sending the wrong message.
“That is a great question. And there’s been a lot of discussion with these manufacturers to change the packaging and/or change their product. Some newer products do break down more easily and more readily in the sewer system,” Allman said
Flushable wipes are one issue. However, Allman said they aren’t the only things the department finds in the sewage that shouldn’t be.
“We have found car parts, Bumpers fronts of cars. we have found bowling balls, and you know you think how can that make it through the system?” Allman said. “The pipes leading to the sewer pumping station are 42 inches in diameter. So, we have very large pipes leaving our pumping stations and large pipes that carry the sewage. So, you know, it makes sense that it makes it through those pipes. But how did it make it through some of those smaller pipes is the question that we often ask ourselves,” she added.
Allman said their message to people is simple.
“The only thing that should go into a toilet is toilet paper. Anything like paper towels and wipes, Qtips, and other paper products should go into a trash can,” Allman said.
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