Tales from the Wastewater Treatment Plant Part II: Don't Flush That

May 8, 2020

Credit City of Homer

When the State of Alaska started issuing health mandates, people started buying cleaning supplies they don't ordinarily buy, like sanitary wipes and cloths.

People who already used them, like parents and caregivers, combined with people who are using them now to help keep the virus out of the house, are having an effect on sanitation and wastewater systems.

Todd Cook is Wastewater Superintendent for the City of Homer. Cook says when schools and workplaces first closed, the City's systems were tested.

“The first week, the guys had to physically, with their hands, remove the rags. We call that kind of stuff “rags”, those handy wipes, anything other than toilet paper. It doesn't break down in the water so it balls up in the system. And then, hundreds of those things may get pumped from pump station to pump station. They create a ragball and by the time they get to our treatment plant, they literally shut off our pumps which pump from 200 to 700 gallons a minute and it shuts 'em down to nothin'.”

Even wipes that say on the package that they are flushable, are not. Cook says, just don't flush them. Workers are finding fewer ragballs lately, but he attributes that to the fact that sanitary wipes aren't in stores. As shelves are restocked, Cook expects to see an increase, unless people help keep them out of the pipes.

“The second week we had one pump plug up. We usually clean those stations on Thursday and last Thursday our pumps were not plugged. The guys were able to flush them out with a big fire hose so I appreciate you guys putting that information out for us.” said Cook.