Remember: ‘Keep the wipes out of the pipes,’ regional utility says

Lyn Riggins of WSSC shows what happens to disinfecting wipes when they’re flushed down the toilet. (Courtesy WSSC Water)

Using more disinfectant wipes at home? A regional water utility has an important message: Don’t flush them.

In fact, it’s easy to remember what to flush, according to WSSC Water’s spokeswoman Lyn Riggins.

“Flush only the three ‘Ps’,” she said, with the third one being toilet paper. “Nothing else. Keep the wipes out of the pipes.”

That’s the highlight of WSSC Water’s newest video, which shows what has to be done at waste water treatment plants when the system gets clogged by both “flushable” wipes and disinfecting wipes.

“We think that more and more people are using disinfecting or sanitizing wipes in the wake of the coronavirus,” Riggins said. “We are seeing a considerable increase.”

She said WSSC Water has spent about $1.5 million over the last decade buying equipment that helps get those wipes out of the system and grinds them up.

But life would be much easier if people just tossed them in the trash can.

“Our pumps can’t handle them,” Riggins said. “And then there’s the problem on the homeowner’s end. They can very well cause a backup, and you could have sewage backing up into your basement because you’re flushing these wipes, and then they just get suck in your pipes.”

In some cases, the wipes that end up at a treatment plant in Bladensburg, Maryland, just get sent to a landfill since the grinding equipment at other locations can’t be installed there.

“It’s astounding to see that a wipe that’s traveled from, maybe Olney or maybe Silver Spring or College Park, to this wastewater pumping station in Bladensburg, that wipe is still intact,” Riggins said. “It’s a perfect little square. It doesn’t even have any little holes in it because they just don’t break up like toilet paper.”

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John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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