Stop flushing wipes, facial tissue, paper towels, cities beg

Coronavirus prompted a run on them. But they’re wreaking havoc on utilities across Snohomish County.

Once down the drain, anything that isn’t toilet paper gums up sewer lines and wastewater facilities. (City of Monroe)

Once down the drain, anything that isn’t toilet paper gums up sewer lines and wastewater facilities. (City of Monroe)

MONROE — People swept shelves of disinfectant wipes and toilet paper as the COVID-19 outbreak spread.

When those ran out, they reached for other sanitary wipes, napkins and paper towels.

But only toilet paper is meant to be flushed. Everything else can wreak havoc on sewer and wastewater systems, a problem now playing out across Snohomish County.

“Unfortunately, manufacturers continue to label personal wipes as ‘flushable,’ which just is not true,” Monroe water and sewer operations manager John Lande said in an email. “Educating people of their impact is the only real tool in solving this problem.”

Once down the drain, cotton swabs, dental floss, disinfectant and sanitary wipes, napkins and paper towels gum up sewer lines and wastewater facilities. In past years, cities changed some equipment to screen and grind the materials. Monroe updated some pumping stations and its wastewater treatment plant to handle and remove or shred what comes through the line.

Usually, a Monroe Public Works crew clears blockages at the plants three or five times a year. They’ve cleaned fouled pumps at pump stations three times the past week.

Workers removed “wads” of personal wipes that required the pumps to be taken out of service, disassembled and cleaned.

The Lake Stevens Sewer District, which serves nearly 13,000 hookups, reported similar problems, district general manager Tonya Christoffersen said in an email.

Wipes collected through its system filled a 1.5-cubic-foot bin over a five-hour period Tuesday.

Some manufacturers label personal wipes as “flushable,” but it’s not true, water and sewer officials say. (City of Monroe)

Some manufacturers label personal wipes as “flushable,” but it’s not true, water and sewer officials say. (City of Monroe)

“We have seen more binding up in our lift station pumps, which does slow down or stop the process of managing wastewater flow,” Christoffersen said. “We are also seeing more dental floss, and while your dentist appreciates you flossing, please don’t flush it.”

Marysville, with about 18,000 sewer hookups, also saw an uptick in wastewater system problems recently, city spokesperson Connie Mennie said.

“It’s not about whether it can be flushed; it’s about whether it can be treated well,” she said.

Everett, which has the most sewer connections in the county at 24,250, didn’t see a notable change in maintenance for its lines. Neither had Bothell, Edmonds, Granite Falls, Lynnwood or Snohomish.

But Bothell had one sewer backup problem recently in which crews found a clog of napkins and paper towels, assistant to the city manager Becky Range said. The city took to social media to warn people against flushing anything other than the “three P’s” of pee, poop and toilet paper. On Facebook, Bothell posted a reminder March 13 and followed with another March 23 after the backup.

Workers have had to remove wads of personal wipes that required the pumps to be taken out of service, disassembled and cleaned. (City of Monroe)

Workers have had to remove wads of personal wipes that required the pumps to be taken out of service, disassembled and cleaned. (City of Monroe)

Gov. Jay Inslee last week ordered people to stay home for two weeks unless deemed an essential worker. More people are falling ill to the disease, which could lead to even more use of napkins, paper towels and wipes.

“What I want people to know are two things,” Lake Stevens Sewer District general manager Christoffersen said. “Back-ups happen in your home — not just our pipes, and what you put in the water (toilet or drain), ends up in the waterways that we fish in, swim or boat in.”

Ben Watanabe: bwatanabe@heraldnet.com; 425-339-3037; Twitter @benwatanabe.

Talk to us

More in Local News

Judge approves 2nd recall effort against Sheriff Fortney

Both recall efforts are gearing up to collect 45,000 signatures to get on the ballot in Snohomish County.

Washington unemployment fraud might be up to $650 million

The number of new claims for unemployment benefits in the state dropped to just over 31,000 last week.

Young firefighter remembered for drive, smile, compassion

Marcus Carroll, 23, was a Snohomish County firefighter. His body was found Monday after a hiking trip.

Police: Former nurse threatens Muslim neighbors at gunpoint

The Mountlake Terrace woman was accused of a hate crime against a mother and two daughters.

Protests continue as Inslee backs review of police actions

Governor says armed citizens in front of stores, like in Snohomish, makes a volatile situation worse

Neighbors oppose Everett’s possible sale of 92.5 wooded acres

The city has owned the land around Wood Creek, which was once its water supply, for decades.

Six counties have applied to move to Phase 3 of reopening

They are among the 27 counties that are in Phase 2. Twelve counties, including Snohomish, are still in Phase 1.

Snohomish County submits application for Phase Two clearance

Officials expect the state will decide “fairly quickly” whether the county is able to proceed.

Hundreds join justice march in Monroe, population 20,000

Alongside police, a huge turnout marched against racism. Even small Snohomish County towns have responded to George Floyd’s death.

Most Read