Bradenton has a cheeky problem to deal with and the city wants to get to the bottom of it, ensuring it’s an issue wiped away while providing relief to its sewer system.
Ironically, a product designed to get yourself clean is creating the mess: baby wipes.
A large clump of wipes is being blamed for causing a break to an 18-inch sewer line in Ballard Park on Tuesday, sending 80,000 gallons of waste water into the stormwater system and ultimately into Ware’s Creek.
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It’s easy not to put a lot of thought into what happens after a toilet is flushed, but what’s left behind begins a journey through a complex system of pipes and lift stations.
In some cases, whatever was just flushed has a 10-mile journey ahead of itself as it travels toward the waste water plant. While you can flush away your metaphorical problems, residents are being asked to be more cautious in what they physically send down the drain.
Baby wipes are advertised as “flushable,” but flushable doesn’t mean it will dissolve. It only means it can fit down your drain without clogging up your toilet. Once in the sewer system, however, the baby wipes have a knack for finding each other, creating larger clumps capable of stacking up within the system.
In 2016, companies selling baby wipes — or personal wipes — did more than $1 billion in business across the United States and the market continues to expand with an estimated growth rate of 2.5 percent a year. Besides its original intent as an actual baby wipe, the product has become a popular sanitary product for people’s personal visit to the porcelain throne.
Most consumer websites point out that individuals should “avoid flushing any type of wipe, ‘flushable’ or otherwise, down the toilet.”
It’s a fact that Jim McLellan, Bradenton’s public works director, wishes more people knew about.
“I sure wish there was a law against wipes going down the toilet,” McLellan said. “Our crews are out on a regular basis pulling pumps at lift stations to de-rag them,” McLellan said. “With all that effort we still have to de-rag at the plant. It’s an ongoing process and every lift station gets touched on a regular basis to avoid this problem.”
It’s not just a Bradenton problem. Other metropolitan areas are suffering from the baby wipe dilemma.
In October, the city of Charleston, S.C.,, pulled a giant baby-wipe infused ball out of its system that weighed thousands of pounds after clogging up a series of large pumps. In December, the town of Garner, N.C., had a sewer line burst due to baby wipes and Raleigh suffered a similar situation in November.
There’s no law in place to help McLellan find relief from the problem, but accountability is beginning surface. In May of 2018, Target had to settle a class action lawsuit for selling Up & Up “flushable” toddler wipes, when like most wipes, they may fit down the drain tjeu don’t but dissolve.
Several manufacturers have been targeted for lawsuits since 2016.
“Major cities are getting involved with class action suits regarding that issue,” city attorney Bill Lisch said. “Cities want them to be biodegradable.”
Lisch said Bradenton has been contacted by attorneys driving some of those class action lawsuits and could, at some point, get involved considering what happened on Tuesday.