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Flushable wipes causing "fatbergs" in Carlisle's sanitary sewer system

The Carlisle Department of Public Works reports the borough’s sanitary sewer system is dealing with multiple blockages due to “flushable” wipes.

CARLISLE, Pa. —

Many wet wipes are marketed as “flushable,” but they’re wreaking havoc on the Carlisle sanitary sewer system. The Carlisle Department of Public Works reports the borough’s system is dealing with multiple blockages due to “flushable” wipes, the problem exacerbated by a recent increase in the use of wet wipes.

As COVID-19 mitigation efforts continue, wet wipes are being used to clean and sanitize surfaces, which has led to more wipes getting flushed down toilets.

The Public Works Department has been pulling hunks of material, called “fatbergs,” out of sanitary sewer lines since the COVID-19 crisis began.

Fatbergs build when non-biodegradable solid matter, such as wet wipes, enters the sewer system and binds with congealed restaurant grease or cooking fat. 

“The paper gets mixed with the grease, you got dental floss, you got hygiene products,” said Corey Flythe, the borough’s water resources manager. “It’s just a snowball effect and it gets bigger and bigger.”

“We're seeing a lot of that material in the sewer system, and that’s causing problems,” said Mark Malarich, the borough’s water resources director.

When a fatberg gets big enough to block a pipe, it can back up all the way to residential homes and bathrooms. Blockages in the main sewer system require public workers and resources to clear, while a blockage in a residential home’s pipes can be costly to fix.

“It’s not worth using the wipes unless you have money to throw away,” said Chris Murray of Harrisburg-based Murray Plumbing. “If you use those wipes they're bound to clog it up sooner or later. It could cost $300, $400, [even] $700 or $800. It really depends on how long it takes us to get the work done.”

The Public Works Department has been suctioning the sanitary sewer system every day, up from two days a month before the pandemic. Crews are removing as many wipes as possible to prevent problems further down the line, at the wastewater treatment facility.

The department is asking Carlisle residents to only flush "the three Ps." In a Facebook post, they promoted proper toilet usage with the hashtag #NoWipesInThePipes.

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