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Independent study concludes 'No 'Flushable' Wipes on the Market are Safe for Sewers'

Wipes lurking in sewer lines can cause major sewer backup

FALLBROOK – According to a recent Canadian study of over 100 "flushable" wipes, no wipes advertised as "flushable" are safe for sewer lines. Evidence has made headlines for years with photos of massive mangled wipes weighing over a thousand pounds clogging municipal sewer lines.

Often, however, those wipes don't make it that far. Instead, they're hung up in homeowners' sewer lines.

A local plumber said that these wipes have also been a major cause of toilet clogs.

"The homeowner may actually be lucky, though," Dale Anderson, owner of Waterheaters Plus Plumbing, said. "Because many of the wipes that do make it through the flush may actually be lurking somewhere within their sewer line and that's a more costly clean out and more stressful situation."

Anderson, a plumber for over 30 years in Fallbrook, said that water conservation appliances reduce the flow rate of everything that goes down our drains and into our sewer lines.

"All those bits of starchy and greasy food particles ground up in garbage disposals, and hair that goes down the shower often combine to form a glob of gluey mess that just hangs around in the sewer line sometimes for days," he said. "If a few of those wipes are flushed down and then meet up with that glob, it can eventually reach a tipping point and plug up the main sewer line. Sewage can even begin to back up into tubs, showers and sinks."

Fallbrook and neighboring areas with larger lots usually have longer sewer lines. Any problem in the sewer pipe within the property line is the responsibility of the property owner.

"It's a matter of simple math that the longer the sewer line in your property, the more likely you are to have a blockage somewhere within that line," Anderson said.

The wipes and other debris that make it through property owners' sewer pipes and into the municipal sewer lines can then clog the municipal sewer system.

"Wipes labeled 'flushable' aren't really safe to flush down the toilet," Jack Bebee, general manager for the Fallbrook Public Utility District, said. "The thick material is somewhere between a cloth and toilet paper and doesn't really break down in the sewage pipelines. That could spell disaster. Since the bulky material doesn't break down in the underground pipes that transport sewage to the district's sewage treatment plant on Alturas Road, the result could be a clog, eventually causing backups and sewer spills. The wipes have been a contributing cause, and perhaps even the main cause, of sewer spills in the past."

Those in rural areas who have septic tanks are also at risk. The only difference is that instead of the homeowner's sewer pipe leading to municipal sewer lines, it leads to the septic tank. If the wipes do go through the sewer pipes and are able to reach the septic system the wipes may still not dissolve. They can clog the septic system, causing it to overflow or need to be cleaned out more often.

In all cases, flushing any type of wipe – regardless what it says on the label – risks costly repairs, stressful inconveniences and even health hazards.

Instead of flushing the wipes, Anderson's advice is to put them into a lined trash container.

"If you've been flushing wipes, or if you're looking at buying a home someone else has lived in, you should get a sewer pipe inspection to find out what may be hiding out down there that could cause costly, stressful problems down the road. After all, you never know what others have been flushing down the toilet," Anderson said.

Anderson said that sewer pipe inspections are not routinely performed as part of a home inspection before the close of a home sale.

"Sewer pipe inspections really should become part of the due diligence included in purchasing a preowned home," he said. "And it's relatively inexpensive. We typically charge $200 for a sewer line inspection. We use an amazing piece of equipment. Basically, it's a camera that fits on the end of a reel about 100 foot long. For most people, it's worth knowing what could be hung up within the sewer pipes. If we do find something that could become a problem, we can snake it out right then. If we find a larger mass we can hydrojet it out."

Anderson advised caution, however, when considering hydrojetting an older home's sewer line if it is cracked or damaged.

"If you discover from the inspection that the house has a 50- or 60-year old cast iron sewer pipe, you still may decide to buy it," Anderson said. "Older homes, like older people, have their own unique charms. Just because they may need some new plumbing later on down the line, you still may fall in love with them. You'll just know it would be wise to set aside savings for eventually replacing that old pipe."

Anderson also advised including a water line inspection for buyers of older homes.

"A routine home inspection should point out any visible plumbing issues such as a leaking pipe underneath a sink or a toilet's old shut-off valve needing replacement," Anderson said. "But most plumbing pipes are not visible so any problems that could develop after the sale won't be obvious. Yet, problems with or inside plumbing pipes can cause financial and emotional stress down the line.

"Galvanized pipe was phased out of homes and replaced with copper in the early 60s, for example. These old pipes rust out and clog up until there is nearly no water volume at all. Rusty water coming from faucets is a clue. Copper pipe Type 'M' is the tiniest and weakest of the group. It is labeled with red lettering. It's prone to pin hole leaks after 10 to 15 years. If you see the old plastic grey-colored pipe – called 'Quest Pipe' (that has been replaced with PEX pipe) plan on replacing it before you even move in.

"It takes an experienced professional plumber to thoroughly inspect the pipes in your home," Anderson said. "Of course, the more experience that plumber has with a wide variety of pipes, the better."

For more information on damage so-called 'flushable' wipes have caused to sewer lines, see at https://waterheatersplusplumbing.com/news/flushable-wipes-flushable-items.

Submitted by Waterheaters Plus Plumbing.

 

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