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Wet wipes down the toilet could be costing you

Everyone has a porcelain throne but if you use things like wet wipes, or flush grease down the pipes it can cause a big stink.

Posted: Nov. 7, 2017 1:30 PM

(Note: This story originally aired in March 2017.)
Everyone has a porcelain throne but if you use things like wet wipes, or flush grease down the pipes it can cause a big stink.

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"My eldest is always trying to put things in the toilet," said mother of two, Jessica Blevins.

With an ever watchful eye Blevins stops her two year old from clogging the pipes. She said she even watches herself, making sure she never flushes wet wipes or baby wipes.

"The package says not to do it so we don't do it here," said Blevins.

Blevins is right. Some wipes say don't flush, or flush one at a time, but some wet wipes promise that they will disintegrate. Many sewage and water departments say that is not always the case.

"Because they say it's biodegradable that doesn't mean it's instantly biodegradable. It breaks down over time and you don't have that kind of time when you put it down the drain," said Florence Utilities Water Department Manager, Mike Doyle.

Doyle said it's not just wet wipes going down the pipes that cause a back up in a line but rather a culmination of everything people flush. Florence Utilities dealt with three over flows in 2016. Tree roots caused two of them and the other was caused by vandals, according to Doyle.

"The craziest thing we've had a couple of times was vandalism. People just taking the lid off a man hole and filling it full of rocks," said Doyle.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency up to 75,000 sewer over flows happen each year in the U.S. This can cause raw sewage to contaminate drinking water. It can even put your health at risk.

"We have crews that go out 24 hours a day seven days a week if there is a sewer over flow," said Doyle. "It's important to know that we have to report those sewer over flows."

The utilities department reports problems to the Alabama Department of Environmental Management.

Doyle took Waay 31 on a tour of the Cypress Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant. Doyle said in the past 20 years they have spent $60 million on the treatment plant.

"Those $60 million are mainly to handle sewer over flows," said Doyle.

Machines at the treatment plant try to filter everything you flush down the toilet. Gunk and grime littered the treatment plants machines, we saw wet wipes, plastics and everything in between.

"It's not just gone because you put it down the drain," said Doyle.

Anytime crews spend fixing sewer over flows, plus upgrades at the treatment plant to stop them costs money.

"It's a misconception is that utilities like this are paid for by tax dollars. They are not paid for by tax dollars they are paid for by the citizens and rate payers who use the service," said Doyle.

Doyle hopes people will stop flushing wipes grease and other things down the tube because that's money down the drain, and Blevins agrees.

"For my sake and your sake don't flush things down the toilet that aren't supposed to be there," said Blevins.

Decatur Utilities and Huntsville's Sewage Department said this is a problem for them as well.

If a utility department or municipality has more sewer over flows than the regulated number by the EPA they can be fined.

In February 2017, a group called the Tennessee Riverkeeper announced plans to sue the City of Tuscumbia Department of Utilities and the Muscle Shoals Utilities Board due to their number of sewer overflows.

The group is now petitioning the Alabama Department of Environment Commission to notify the public when these sewer overflows happen.

The group put out this statement which said, "Recent sewer spills across the Tennessee Valley from Muscle Shoals and Tuscumbia to Stevenson and Scottsboro emphasize the need for better notification to the public."

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