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Increased use of disposable wipes in Oakland & Macomb counties can lead to sewer damage, officials say

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Posted at 9:27 AM, Apr 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-01 09:27:29-04

(WXYZ) — The use of disposable wipes appears to be increasing during the pandemic, the Macomb County Public Works Commission says.

Officials say disposable wipes lead to costly damage to sewer pipes and pump stations serving both Macomb and Oakland counties.

MCPW Commissioner Candice S. Miller and Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner Jim Nash says wipes should never be flushed, even if labeling on packages indicate they are flushable.

“In early 2018, approximately 70 tons of debris that had accumulated over a period of three years was removed from the Northeast Sewage Pumping Station in Detroit. Three years later, a crew that recently completed a cleaning removed approximately 270 tons of debris,” Miller said. “That’s a huge – and troubling -- increase.

“It’s unfortunate that people continue to flush these wipes. It is causing more problems and more expense for every sewer system,” Miller said. “Throw them in the garbage after use. Do not flush them down the toilet.”

“Wipes form clumps that grow into hard masses creating blockages in sewer pipes,” said Nash. “They are not safe for the sewer system and should not be flushed down the toilet. We are seeing an uptick of issues specifically at the Oakland-Macomb Interceptor sewer system and pumping station. It is taking crews longer than expected to clean the systems due to the build-up of ‘flushable’ wipes. The cost of cleaning the wipes is costly to the system and its rate-payers.”

The Northeast Sewage Pumping Station, located on State Fair near Outer Drive, handles sanitary sewage from a total of 23 communities in Macomb and Oakland counties that comprise the Oakland-Macomb Interceptor Drainage District.

Officials say crews that cleaned the massive bar screens that snag most of the debris before it reaches the pumps will now begin removing the wipes twice a year. However, some wipes get through, wreaking havoc on pumps and other parts of the mechanical handling of flushed wastewater.

Additionally, officials say an average of approximately 1,000 pounds of wipes a week was flushed down toilets prior to the COVID-19 pandemic before reaching the Clintondale Pumping Station in Clinton Township. A couple of months after COVID-19 resulted in stay-home orders 12 months ago, that average jumped to about 4,000 pounds a week.

From spring 2018 to spring 2020, Miller’s department says it spent approximately $100,000 to remove two large masses of wipes from the sewer system.

In 2018, a 19-ton mass of wipes and accumulated grease that attached to the sewer system was removed, dubbed the Macomb County "Fatberg." In 2019, workers removed a 1-ton mass of wipes that became known as the “Ragball.” It was composed of thousands of wipes that became knotted together in a different section of sewer.