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Macomb County Public Works see rise in disposable wipes, PPE ending up in sewage system

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Posted at 4:17 AM, Sep 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-12 13:21:06-04

MACOMB COUNTY, Mich. (WXYZ) — In just the first couple of weeks of the pandemic, Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller said the county's sewage system was getting overloaded with items that aren't supposed to be flushed.

“In one of our pump stations which really only handles about four or five of our communities, we had an almost 400 percent increase in wipes and disposable gloves," she said.

Miller, who is seeking re-election, has been outspoken about the problems associated with flushing personal wipes. This spring, she sued several companies that make the wipes over their labeling as "flushable."

“These things are not biodegradable. So we’ve had just an enormous increase in all of that and that causes all kinds of issues in the sewage interceptors," she told 7 Action News by phone.

Sewage from Macomb County feeds into an interceptor at the larger Great Lakes Water Authority for treatment. The GLWA's combined system treated both sewage and storm water, which means PPE that's been littered on the street can also pose a problem, especially with the heavy rain we've seen in recent weeks.

“The screening mechanism mechanically removes that. But when it is in excess some of that could overflow and go through that and could end up into the [Detroit] River," said Majid Khan, director of operations for wastewater operating services at GLWA.

While the GLWA does not measure PPE specifically, Macomb County's spike in disposable wipes and gloves is concerning; as the sewage systems in the tri-county area feed into the same place.

"You would be doing a favor to the essential workers that are keeping this sewer system, water system up and running for the benefit of the residents not to flush those kind of PPE or flushable wipes down the drain," Khan told 7 Action News.

Macomb County's system has equipment to catch things like wipes and gloves too, but it can get damaged if the volume is too high.

“In this era of COVID the very last thing that any of us need is some sort of sewer back-up in somebody’s home or a major sewer back-up," Miller said.

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