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Wipes flushed down toilets clogged South Glens Falls sewer

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Flushable vs. disposable wipes

The top container is clearly marked ‘flushable’ wipes, which means they are supposed to disintegrate in the sewer system, while the other container holds disposable wipes, which cannot be placed in the toilet.

SOUTH GLENS FALLS — Diaper wipes cost South Glens Falls nearly $3,000 in a recent sewer system breakdown.

The Feeder Dam sewer pump station stopped working after 300 pounds of wipes clogged the machine.

The village had to call in specialists. It took three people to clear the problem, at a cost of $2,733.

“It was all full of those ‘flushable’ rags,” said Department of Public Works supervisor Richard Daley.

They were so heavy that they broke electrical wires in the pump, he said.

Wipes marketed as “flushable” have caused problems in sewer systems around the country. The village already asks users not to flush them, but now village officials are considering a direct appeal to residents.

“I’m not thrilled with the whole situation,” Daley said.

Village Board members discussed the problem at their meeting Wednesday.

They noted that the pump station is only 2 years old, to serve a new housing subdivision.

“What you’re forgetting is, these new homes have little kids,” said board member Bill Hayes. “It might warrant some kind of notice to them.”

Mayor Harry Gutheil, who has been sounding the alarm about the village’s finances, said the village can’t afford to pay more $3,000 repair bills.

“What’s going to prevent it from happening again?” he asked.

The station is so new that it wasn’t scheduled for its first maintenance inspection yet, Daley said.

“We didn’t anticipate this,” he said.

But given the cost of the rising problem, he proposed pulling up every sewer pump twice a year so they can be cleaned of debris.

They may also put a protective sleeve around the electronics that monitor each pump, so that wipes can’t hang on them and break the wires.

But they’re also hoping people stop flushing the wipes.

Not everyone agrees that flushable wipes are the problem.

The Alliance for Responsible Flushing says that people are flushing other wipes that aren’t marketed as flushable.

“To set the record straight, flushable wipes are not the culprit behind sewage problems — flushable wipes are specifically designed to be flushed; they are engineered to break down in properly maintained sewer and septic systems,” said spokeswoman Christine King. “Recent studies conducted in New York City instead suggest the real source of the problem is the flushing of other products not designed or marketed as suitable for flushing. The same studies have proven flushable wipes to be compatible with wastewater systems, not a burden.”

For example, many “disposable” diaper wipes are not flushable.

But people admit they flush them, King said.

“In New York City, more than 98 percent of items found in wastewater systems are items not meant to be flushed — everything from non-flushable baby wipes, paper towels to non-flushable wipes to feminine hygiene products. Flushable wipes accounted for less than two percent of debris found in sewage screening,” she said.

You can reach Kathleen Moore at 742-3247 or kmoore@poststar.com. Follow her on Twitter @ByKathleenMoore or at her blog on www.poststar.com.

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