“Flushable” wipes cause problems at water treatment plants


SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KOLR) – Wipes marked as “flushable” have become an increasing problem for water treatment plants across the country and it’s no different in Springfield, Missouri.  

OzarksFirst got up-close and personal with the wipes at the end of their journey at Springfield’s Southwest Wastewater Treatment Plant.  

This is where the “flushable” wipes end up: 

A cart of "flushable" wipes is collected at Springfield's Southwest Wastewater Treatment Plant.
A cart of “flushable” wipes is collected at Springfield’s Southwest Wastewater Treatment Plant. (Courtesy: Madison Hever/OzarksFirst)

“This is probably what’s accumulated today,” said Springfield’s Clean Water Services Superintendent, Brian Wirth. “We’re not really set up to deal with these wipes. These wipes do not break down like toilet paper does, so they end up somewhere. It’s more like flushing a handkerchief or a piece of cloth down the drain.” 

Wirth estimates the plant collects thousands of wipes a day. 

While the wipes may make it through your plumbing system at home, they can accumulate and create clogs when heading to the treatment plant.  

“At the plant, obviously, we try to screen it out, grind them up, but it can still create issues here, at the plant. It’s becoming a bigger problem because the use has gone up in the last ten years or so.” 

The “flushable” wipes can get caught in valves or pumps. 

“If there’s a clogged pump, it doesn’t happen on a schedule. It typically happens in the middle of the night or on the weekend,” Wirth said. “Somebody has to go out. They have to get in there, pull the pump out, pull the pump apart, remove the clog and either repair the pump or if it’s damaged, replace it.” 

These clogs and repairs cost money.  

“I don’t know that we’ve tallied up what it costs us but, if I’m just guessing, it’s probably on the order of a couple hundred thousand dollars,” said Wirth. “So, cost is an issue.” 

“The main message is they don’t belong down the drain,” Wirth said. “They should go in the trash.” 

All of the wipes collected at the Springfield Southwest Wastewater Treatment Plant is sent to the landfill.

If you’re going to use the wipes, Wirth suggests just throwing them away. That way, they end up in the landfill without clogging pumps or valves.  

If you’re worried about creating more waste, you can always use toilet paper.  

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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