Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Flushable bathroom wipes blamed for Tampa Bay area sewer clogs

Bathroom wipes touted as a flushable alternative to toilet paper are clogging sewer systems across the Tampa Bay area and costing taxpayers significant money for emergency cleanups.

While manufacturers insist their wipes aren't the culprit, authorities here say the increase in clogs came with an increase in marketing of the popular product during the past five years.

Richard Cummings, who oversees Hillsborough County's sewer collection, calls flushable wipes insidious.

Manufacturers keep adding more plastic, Cummings said, so the wipes are sturdy enough to be used by consumers. But all that plastic gets stuck in pumps and forms a massive ball, he said.

Cummings, along with authorities in Pinellas County and the city of Tampa, say taxpayers are paying for emergency maintenance to keep sewers from overflowing into streets and houses. Cummings said Hillsborough paid $195,000 during the past two years just to combat the clogs.

Pinellas authorities have tried to adapt, said Bob Powell, who oversees the county's water and sewer divisions. They bought finer water filters to screen the waste and equipment that is less likely to catch on the fibers.

The problem is not unique to this area, or even the U.S.

Sewer agencies in many states are blaming premoistened "personal" wipes for stuffing their pipes and jamming their pumps. And this year, a 15-ton glob of wipes and hardened cooking grease — nicknamed "Fatberg" by the Brits — was discovered in a London sewer pipe.

In Hillsborough this week, Del Tempel, a plant maintenance mechanic, hooked a rope to a pump 30 feet in the ground at a station off Linebaugh Avenue that is plagued by clogs. Tempel regularly cuts and untangles the mess, which he refers to as "mop strings," with pliers, screwdrivers and cutters.

The work is intensive and unpleasant, though Tempel says he no longer notices the powerful stench. Hillsborough County has more than 700 pump stations and every day teams of workers have to untangle such messes.

Manufacturers of the wipes insist the clogs are made from people flushing things they shouldn't.

"I wonder how they determine what is what in that morass of stuff," said Phil Pitt, a spokesman for the Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry.

It could very well be remnants of baby wipes, feminine products and paper towels, he said. "Forensic data supports that it is."

Wipes labeled flushable have to pass a disintegration test, Pitt said, although he wouldn't say the wipes do disintegrate.

Pitt said the industry has been and will continue to work with wastewater industry to find a solution to "our differences of opinion."

Cummings said he can't prove the plastic strands are from wipes. Workers recognize some other things, like underwear, floss, condoms and feminine products.

Items that don't disintegrate sometimes make their way through pumps to wastewater treatment sites, where they gob up screens and require more workers to clean and dispose of the mess.

Unfortunately, Cummings said, some people think when they flush that "God takes over."

Authorities on both sides of the bay want people to follow a simple rule: Flush only human waste and toilet paper.

Times staffer writers Richard Danielson and Anna Phillips contributed to this report. Elisabeth Parker can be reached at eparker@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3431.

Flushable bathroom wipes blamed for Tampa Bay area sewer clogs 10/01/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 1, 2013 11:36pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Rays send down Chase Whitley, Andrew Kittredge; add Chih-Wei Hu, acitvate Alex Cobb

    Blogs

    After having to cover more than five innings following a short start by Austin Pruitt, the Rays shuffled their bullpen following Wednesday's game, sending down RHPs Chase Whitley and Andrew Kittredge,

    The Kittredge move was expected, as he was summoned to add depth to the pen Wednesday in advance of RHP Alex …

  2. MLB commissioner Rob Manfred moves closer to wanting a decision on Rays stadium

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred called Wednesday for urgency from Tampa Bay area government leaders to prioritize and move quicker on plans for a new Rays stadium.

    MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred talks with reporters at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2017.
  3. Six home runs doom Rays in loss to Blue Jays (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — A curve that didn't bounce was the difference Wednesday as the Rays lost 7-6 to the Blue Jays in front of 8,264, the smallest Tropicana field crowd since Sept. 5, 2006.

    Tampa Bay Rays shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria (11) greets center fielder Kevin Kiermaier (39) at the plate after his two run home run in the third inning of the game between the Toronto Blue Jays and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2017.
  4. Jones: Stop talking and start building a new Rays stadium

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — It was good to see Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred at Tropicana Field on Wednesday, talking Rays baseball and the hope for a new stadium somewhere in Tampa Bay.

    Commissioner Rob Manfred is popular with the media on a visit to Tropicana Field.
  5. Ousted to political Siberia by Corcoran, Kathleen Peters sets sights on Pinellas Commission

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — The perks of power in Tallahassee are a coveted chairmanship, a Capitol office in a prime location and a prominent seat on the House floor. Now Rep. Kathleen Peters has lost all three, but here's the twist: Her trip to "Siberia" might actually help her reach the next step on the Tampa Bay political …

    Rep. Kathleen Peters, R-South Pasadena, has been relegated to the back row in the State House chamber, moved to a fouth floor office and stripped of her job as chairwoman of a House subcommittee after a series of disagreements with House Speaker Richard Corcoran. [SCOTT KEELER | Tampa Bay Times]