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DEP: Be careful what you flush

It seems the panic buying of toilet paper related to the coronavirus pandemic has subsided.

But the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection issued a reminder this week that people still need to be careful about what they flush.

In a news release from Wednesday, the agency said sewage treatment facilities have seen upticks in clogging caused by non-flushable materials - like tissues, wipes, paper towels, gloves and cotton swabs - being put down the toilet since the state first shut down in March.

“Flushing or dumping the wrong things down the drain can cause blockages in your own home or business as well as problems in the local sewer system,” the release states.

“Many sewer blockages occur between your house or business and the sewer main, where the property owner is responsible for correcting and paying for the repair.”

Even wipes labeled as “flushable” or “biodegradable,” DEP says, shouldn’t go down the pipes. The only things that should be flushed are toilet paper and human waste.

Barry Scherer, Palmerton Borough’s public works supervisor, said that while the borough’s sewage facility fortunately hasn’t run into any issues since the statewide stay-at-home order was issued, residents flushing gloves, wipes and other items has caused problems in the past.

“People are flushing more and more,” he said. “They’re flushing plastic gloves. They’re flushing feminine hygiene products, which are not meant to be flushed. Even disposable baby wipes, that may be advertised as flushable, should not be flushed down their toilets.”

“Those non-biodegradable items that people are flushing down their toilets are a nuisance to us,” Scherer said. “They have the potential to get into our pumps and block them.”

Once in the sewage, Scherer said non-flushable items have to be mechanically separated; but detritus can slip by, landing in pumps and potentially blocking them. When that happens, pumps have to be disassembled and cleaned.

“Our sewage plant is designed to treat waste - solid waste, not objects,” Scherer said.

“As far as I’m concerned” he said, “the only thing that should go down their toilets is what comes out of their bodies.” (That’s with the exception of toilet paper.)