By: Sophia Mekled
Summary: Our local sewage systems and toilets are getting backed up due to the shortage of toilet paper during this pandemic. People are turning to baby wipes, paper towel, napkins anything you can think of to substitute toilet paper. Though many people are following the guidelines that the government and public health officials have given us Americans, it is causing some issues. These guidelines include sterilizing household, and keeping yourself sanitized, but now we are facing a problem that many people are tossing their disinfectant wipes, paper towels, and other products that aren’t toilet paper down the toilet. What does this do? These products completely clog the sewage systems and toilet pipes. Flushable wipes may seem like they can be flushed, but they actually should not be. Most wet wipes are made from non-woven materials, unlike toilet paper, and this causes them to take a long time to breakdown in water and sometimes they don’t at all. In older residential sewers wipes get caught on misaligned pip joints and as more wipes are flushed, they accumulate catching all the waste until they eventually clog the sewer. Wipes that eventually make it to the water treatment facilities clog intake pumps which in this case would require costly fixes. Essentially toilet paper should be the only thing going down the toilet.
Why we should care? Fatbergs, a congealed mass in a sewage system formed by the combination of flushed non-biodegradable solid matter, such as wet wipes, and congealed grease or cooking fat, give us the opportunity to [re]consider what we flush down our drains and how it impacts our water infrastructure and the drinking water it is meant to supply us. This could potentially contaminate the water that we use in our homes. People need to dispose of wipes into the garbage. Not only wipes, but paper towel, napkins, and other paper products that are not toilet paper.
Example News Article:
I found that this article was interesting because it explained the topic very well and helps the readers understand the situation better. They stated in this article that in some county’s they already have to remove 300 tons of wipes from its sewage system every month. Imagine now in this crisis how many more tons will be collected since the decrease in toilet paper supply and the increase in wet wipe purchases. It is interesting to think how much just one person can affect an entire sewage system. There was another point in the article that they are actually now getting issues of people using too much toilet paper. I would think that since there is such a scarce amount of toilet paper people would be paying more attention to how much they use.
Science in Action.
Dr. Tracie Baker is an Assistant Professor at Wayne State University in the Institute of Environmental Health Science and Department of Pharmacology.
Tracie Baker studied the large-scale sewer blockages that happen world why. They are caused by massive buildup of discarded fats, oils, and grease. Baker was a part of a team of Wayne State University researches to better understand the physical, chemical, and biological character of these fatbergs through real-time video, in-line sensor data and advanced physiochemical analysis of the blockages. What was studied is that they are often caused by people improperly disposing of non-biodegradable items in homes, restaurants, and in various industries and businesses. She said that, “Our study will help identify contaminants of interest in fatbergs by extracting and evaluating the concentrations of emerging contaminants including pesticides, pharmaceuticals, personal care, products and plastic,” said Baker. By researching these aspects and going through the results their goal was it to be helpful in seeing the potential risks correlated with blockages and then to furthermore inform prevention and mitigation efforts. I never thought about people actually studying and researching such situations like this, and thankfully there are because it helped me better understand what my topic was.