Simply put, disposable wipes should not be flushed down the toilet.
They're used to clean everything from cabinet tops to baby bottoms, and manufacturers advertise them as flushable. But when wipes wander through the wastewater system, they're slow to biodegrade and often become entangled in sewer lift pumps, which can cause stoppage and sometimes backups.
Ferrysburg City Clerk/Treasurer Debbie Wierenga said baby wipes caused a backup last weekend on Parkwood Street that affected about a half-dozen condominiums.
“We don't know the extent of the damage yet," she said. "Not all the reports are in.”
Wierenga said wipes in the pipes are the top threat to the city's sewer system.
“It's become more of a significant problem recently,” she noted.
Spring Lake/Grand Haven Wastewater Treatment Plant Superintendent John Stuparits estimates wipes cost his plant between $5,000 and $10,000 a year to clean up. Plant employees typically remove five 30-gallon cans full of wipes from the system every week.
“We're constantly cleaning those wipes,” Stuparits said. “That stuff has a tendency to snowball. It wraps and twists, and picks up anything else that might be in the system that normally wouldn't be an issue. It gets all tangled together, so when the pump sucks it in, the pump can't pass it.”
Stuparits said representatives from the wastewater treatment industry have appealed to wipes manufacturers to change the way they market their product or change their composition — but so far, there's been no results.
“The manufacturers say they're disposable, they're flushable — baloney,” he said. “They don't break down like tissue paper would. That's why people like them — they hold together.”
The problem began about five years ago when Stuparits and his staff noticed a few wipes hung up on pumps. They thought it was just a random case.
To read more of this story, see Saturday’s print or e-edition of the Grand Haven Tribune.