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‘Flushable’ wipes clogging Lathrop wastewater system
A clog created by "flushable" wipes that was removed from a wastewater pipeline in a Midwest city.

It’s been more than two months since stay at home orders went into effect, and the City of Lathrop is still fighting the battle with “flushable” wipes.

Even though more people have gone back to work as restrictions have been relaxed and an opening of even a larger section of businesses is imminent, the city has been dealing with an abundance of wipes – even those that are listed as “flushable” on the packaging – clogging up sewer mains and grinding things to a halt at the city’s newest treatment facility.

Because the wipes do not disintegrate in water the same way that toilet paper does, it has required additional manpower and the use of machinery to clear the blockages which Lathrop City Manager Steve Salvatore is worried will inevitably lead to an increase in rate for consumers.

“Toilet wipes are not biodegradable and continue to be problematic in both the sewer collection system and our new treatment facility,” Salvatore said. “We’re dealing with system shutdowns and labor and auxiliary equipment required to clear blockages adds substantial operational costs, ultimately driving up user rates.

“Please help us control rates and don’t flush those wipes.”

As an independent utility, the city operates the sewer fund apart from all other municipal finances and it is designed to be self-serving – the rates that residents pay for sewer usage is based on the cost associated with the necessary maintenance and upgrades required to operate the system.

If there are additional unforeseen expenses, then ultimately those costs would have to be passed on to the customers themselves in order to keep the fund solvent.

The city faced a similar issue when mandatory water restrictions led to a reduction in the amount of water that was used and inevitably forced the maintenance costs to rise above that of the fund’s revenue – prompting the city to go to the city council to raise rates in order to balance things out.

As the pandemic became entrenched and more and more people were told to stay home, experts believe the combination of additional disinfecting – using premoistened wipes – and a temporary shortage of toilet paper prompted people to turn to their toilets to dispose of the fibrous products rather than throwing them away.

While the wipes can wreak havoc on home pumping as well, they also pose a problem for numerous facets of the city’s sewage system – from the pipes that transport sewage to treatment plants to lift and pump stations that allow for the sewage to be transmitted along its route.

Regardless of what packaging may say, Salvatore is urging all residents to find alternate ways of disposing of their cleaning and baby wipes.

When asked if there are any market wipes that are available that don’t cause that issue, his response was simple and direct.

“Nope,” he said.

To contact reporter Jason Campbell email or call 209.249.3544.