TAMPA — When the going got tough for those quarantining without stockpiles of toilet paper, people got going with so-called flushable wipes. And paper towels. And diapers. And, in one case, lingerie.
They’ve seen it before, Hillsborough County’s Public Utilities workers say. Everyone tosses a napkin or two down the loo over the course of their lives when there’s no spare square to be found.
But since the coronavirus hit, shuttering businesses and parks and everywhere else people go, they have only once place to work, play — and flush.
Down below, utility workers are struggling to clean pipes stopped up by balls of waste they call Clogg Monsters — “two G’s because it’s extra gross," their public service announcement says.
“They were a huge concern at first, especially since the first thing that seemed to be flying off the shelves were these so-called flushable wipes that just get knotted up in our pumps," said Kevin Moran, a division director.
They’re not really flushable, of course.
“The good news is we’re actually starting to see a slight reduction the past few days. Maybe we’re starting to flatten our own curve.”
Clogg Monsters back up sewer systems, spilling sewage onto the street and costing customers hundreds in repairs.
They’ve long been a problem everywhere, now aggravated by the coronavirus quarantining. The Environmental Protection Agency has issued official warnings against the dangers of foreign objects down the toilet — particularly gloves, facemasks and wipes that may be carrying COVID-19.
“Our nation’s wastewater employees are everyday heroes who are on the frontline of protecting human health and environment every single day," the agency said.
It’s hard to say for sure, but Hillsborough County suspects that some of the success it’s seeing in reducing the problem comes from a campaign featuring a catchy earworm of a jingle.
Don’t Flush It! was launched last year to help keep pipes clean during the heavy seasonal rains that threaten to overwhelm the county’s pumps and pipes and push raw sewage into Tampa Bay, Moran said.
Once relegated to the dead air time before meetings broadcast on the county’s cable TV station, the campaign now is being pushed out by the county’s marketing team onto Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
Moran welcomes the new public attention.
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The message needs to be shared now more than ever, he said. Health experts still are studying whether the coronavirus can be contracted through sewage, but they already know other deadly diseases lurk there.
Maintenance crews in the age of coronavirus are taking extra precautions.
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