coronavirus outbreak

Don't Flush Cleaning Wipes Down the Toilet, Agencies Warn

In March, a Redding sewer was backed up after a resident flushed shredded T-shirts after using them in place of toilet paper.

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Those using disinfecting wipes to protect against COVID-19 should refrain from flushing them down the toilet, which can potentially cause a sewage backup, an organization reminded the public Tuesday.

Non-flushable items, including wipes, paper towels and tampons, cause 98% of wastewater system clogs, the Responsible Flushing Alliance said in a news release. The organization cited reports on the issue, including one commissioned by New York City in 2016, which found that trash, paper towels and baby wipes accounted for over three-quarters of materials that cause "operational challenges" in water systems.

Public agencies have previously warned against flushing material other than toilet paper. In March, when the coronavirus caused many to turn to wipes to disinfect their surfaces at home or work, the California State Water Resources Control Board urged residents to throw away their cleaning materials rather than flush them down the drain, noting that wastewater treatment facilities were already reporting blockages due to the items.

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"Many spills go to our lakes, rivers, and oceans where they have broad ranging impacts on public-health and the environment. Preventing sewer spills is important, especially during this COVID-19 emergency, for the protection of public health and the environment," the department said in a news release.

With many shoppers struggling to find toilet paper, however, some have turned to non-flushable alternatives, which has at times resulted in major issues with water systems. In March, a Redding sewer was backed up after a resident flushed shredded T-shirts after using them in place of toilet paper.

Some wipes and other items marked as "flushable" are designed to disintegrate in water systems, according to the RFA. However, the California Water Control Board warned that even these can clog pipes and inhibit water treatment, advising people to throw them in the trash instead.

The RFA also announced Tuesday it was launching a campaign to spread awareness of proper flushing habits.

"Today it's more important than ever that we all do our part to protect plumbing and sewer systems by looking for the ‘flushable’ label before flushing any wipe, and continue to do so even after the COVID-19 crisis subsides. Anything without that label should go in the trash," said Dave Rousse, president of the Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry in the news release.

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