Utah sewage officials say flushable wipes are their ‘worst nightmare’

This photo provided by Charleston Water System on Saturday, Oct. 20, 2018, shows huge balls of oily, black used wet wipes and baby wipes that had clogged intake pumps in Charleston, S.C. The Charleston Water System had to send in the divers nearly 100 feet (30 meters) into a sewer well after the wipes, congealed by grease and other items sent into the pipes, clogged the suction intake pumps to the Plum Island Wastewater Treatment Center on James Island. (Charleston Water System via AP)

Utah lawmakers got their first look this week at a public relations campaign aimed at educating residents on “the three P’s” that can be flushed down a toilet.

“Pee, poo, paper,” said Jill Jones, general manager of the Central Davis Sewer District. “And that’s it.”

Jones, during a presentation Wednesday to members of the Public Utilities, Energy and Technology Interim Committee, said she and other sewage treatment managers are working together on the upcoming campaign. She said they are responding to the rise in popularity of products that are marketed as toilet-safe but that lead to the clogging of pipes and sewer pumps and result in costly maintenance and repairs.

“Today, we want to talk to you about our worst nightmare,” Jones told committee members. “That’s wet wipes — including flushable wipes.”

Wipes, or premoistened towelettes, have for years faced criticism for contributing to utility clogs and creating so-called “fatbergs,” or large masses of grease and flushed products that form within, and disrupt, municipal sewage systems.

The businesses behind flushable wipes deny those characterizations, pointing to the improper flushing of other products.

But Jones said the Central Davis Sewer District has seen $60,000 in new annual maintenance costs that she attributes to flushable wipes, the equivalent of $1 each year for ever person served by the district.

She estimated that figure could be extended statewide, meaning more than $3 million spent annually on repairs to damage caused by misleadingly marketed bathroom products.

“None of these should go down the toilet,” Jones said.

Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Holladay, suggested that education efforts should include the elderly, who may experience incontinence and see moistened towelettes as a preferable alternative to traditional toilet paper.

“You’ve got to focus it on not just young people,” she said.

And Rep. Carl Albrecht, R-Richfield, joked that Jones’ presentation was nearly too graphic for him to stomach.

“You know, I love to hunt, but sometimes I have a hard time cleaning the deer,” Albrecht said. “This just about did me in.”

Jones said her group is not currently seeking legislation, or an appropriation of state dollars. But she added that some supplementary funding, particular for rural water districts, could be needed if the problem of pipes clogged by flushed wipes persists.

“We’re optimistic that our public relation campaign will work,” she said. “If not, we’ll be back.”