Las Vegas Sun

December 14, 2017

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Clark County laments sewage clog from flushable wipes

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Courtesy of Clark County Water Reclamation District

The Clark County Water Reclamation District provides an example of buildup of items that should not be flushed.

Although flushable wipes are advertised as just that, the alternative to toilet paper is a real “pain in the drain” for local utility workers.

The Clark County Water Reclamation District spends tens of thousands of dollars annually on clearing buildup of items that should not be flushed, with a large portion of that being flushable wipes. The problem has only been getting worse as of late.

With the popularity of using wipes growing nationwide, problems surrounding the product are increasing.

“They just don't break up like toilet paper does,” said Julie Chadburn, compliance and regulatory affairs administrator with the Clark County Water Reclamation District. “They accumulate and they can clog a homeowner’s pipe and cause an overflow. They’ll also clog the sewer pipes in the street, which can overflow and cause a public health issue.”

The wipes clog pipes and pumps at the reclamation district's lift stations — a facility where wastewater is transported from lower to higher elevations.

“We have to go in and routinely pull all those out of our pumps, so that they don’t tear up our pumps and that our lift stations work effectively,” she said. “Some of them do get through the lift station, and we have to pull them out of the first stage of our treatment process so that they don’t go in and clog our treatment plant pumps.”

The reclamation district has a campaign aimed at educating the public about not flushing wipes and other items like prescription pills called Pain in the Drain.

“We’re ramping up the educational component of it,” Chadburn said. “We look to have some PSAs out in the future. We target certain groups to educate them that just the three Ps should be put in the toilet and everything else should go in the trash.”

Because the product is billed as a flushable, Chadburn said people are usually surprised that they are not recommended to go in the toilet. For that reason, there are various lawsuits across the country pertaining to the product being labeled as flushable, only to cause plumbing issues.

Although not involved in any legal matter now, the reclamation district could seek a change on the labeling of those wipes, having the term “‘flushable” removed at the state level, Chadburn said.

“We would be looking at working with industry groups on legislative remedies,” she said. “We’ll look and see what we could take to the Nevada Legislature and see what we could do on the state level. But it’s really a group effort.”

The water reclamation district is hosting an open house 9 a.m.-3 p.m.Saturday at its Flamingo Resource Center, 5857 E. Flamingo Road. Tours, demonstrations and examples of flushable wipe buildup that was removed from pipes and more will be provided.

“We kind of fly under the radar. When you flush or wash something down the drain, it’s kind of out of sight, out of mind,” Chadburn said. “We really provide a valuable service for the community. For all the waste water we take in, we treat it and we put back highly treated water back into our environment, which extends our water resource.

“So by allowing people to come in and see how we do that … they can see from start to finish what we take in and the quality of water we put back into the environment.”