(EGLE has suspended regular publication of MI Environment due to the coronavirus pandemic but will feature occasional articles that give guidance or information regarding the coronavirus response.)
We've all heard of the three "Rs" — reading, writing, and 'rithmatic. Here's another important lesson to learn: the three "Ps": toilet paper, pee and poo.
Those are the only things that should ever be flushed down a toilet. Flushing other paper products can lead to basement sewage backups in your home, and create costly problems for local wastewater treatment plants.
During the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, many stores are finding it hard to keep toilet paper in stock. Some customers have turned to so-called "flushable" wipes — which are NOT flushable despite the marketing slogan — and other paper products as alternatives. The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) reminds Michiganders to flush only toilet paper to avoid clogging public sewerage systems. Paper products including "flushable" wipes do not break down effectively in the sewer system, which can result in raw sewage backups in basements and expensive plumbing repair bills.
Non-toilet paper products should be thrown into the garbage and not flushed down the toilet.
Non-flushable paper products can also create or contribute to blockages in public sewer systems. That can lead to facility discharges of untreated sewage to nearby land and water. In June 2019, for example, Northville Township experienced a discharge of approximately 10,000 gallons of untreated sewage to nearby land when flushable wipes contributed to a blockage of the sewer system.
Wipes and other non-flushable paper products can also add to sewer "fatbergs," a conglomeration of fats and grease that capture flushed items, including non-flushable paper products, to coalesce into a large, impenetrable clump and restrict efficient wastewater flow. One such fatberg was found in Macomb County's sewers in 2018 and measured 100 feet long and up to six feet tall, according to the Macomb County Public Works Office.
From a community and public health perspective, it is critical that wastewater treatment plants continue to function properly so they can disinfect sewage and avoid untreated discharges.
EGLE staff continues to ensure that wastewater treatment plants adequately disinfect sewage they receive. Hypochlorite and other disinfectants that treatment plants use have shown to be effective in addressing COVID-19. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is no evidence to date of transmission of COVID-19 through sewage.
If residents have questions about wastewater treatment or sewerage, they should contact their local public works department.
To see more of the problem, check out the East Bay Municipal Utility District's video.
Graphic credit: Great Lakes Water Authority