Michigan city officials: ‘flushable’ wipes can back up sewer system

(UC) -- Officials in Tecumseh, Michigan, are echoing a warning given by community leaders across the country: wipes labeled “flushable” should not be flushed, as they can cause sewage blockages.

The city has recently experienced two instances of sewage backing up into homes because of wipe-induced clogs, the Daily Telegraph reported.

"So we’re trying to get the word out there that these wipes are not flushable," Tecumseh City Manager Dan Swallow told the Daily Telegraph. "They don’t break down. They’re very difficult to clean out of the sewers and so that’s been a challenge for us and many other communities across the country.” 

Swallow and Clinton, Michigan, City Manager Kevin Cornish are telling residents they should not flush any kinds of wipes down the toilet, no matter what packaging says.

“The flushable wipes are very hard on the wastewater treatment plant because they get caught up in the processing equipment, which makes the sewer plant less efficient in cleaning the wastewater before it is discharged into the river,” Cornish said in an email, according to the article

This is putting strain on wastewater treatment staff, who manually pull the wipes out of pumps and equipment, Cornish said.

There have been numerous examples of wipes causing similar problems throughout the state.

In 2018, utility workers in Macomb County, Michigan, broke up a 100-foot-long, 11-foot-wide blockage in a sewer line, which was made up of congealed cooking grease and oils mixed with wipes and other solids, the Daily Telegraph reported. The county gave part of the mass to Wayne State University for research on how these blockages form.

The problem ramped up during the pandemic, when people began cleaning their homes more, or running out of toilet paper, therefore using and flushing more wipes. California, Washington, Oregon and Illinois have passed “do not flush” legislation requiring packaging of certain wipes to include labeling telling consumers to not flush the wipes, the article states.

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