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Canadian municipalities urge their residents to think about what they flush

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To prevent sewage backups, municipalities and water organizations are telling customers to avoid treating their toilets like trashcans, especially during the COVID-19 situation.

“At a time when we are being quarantined or self-isolated at home due to COVID-19, nobody wants a situation that would force you out of your home where you are safest”, observed Robert Haller, Executive Director of the Canadian Water and Wastewater Association (CWWA).

The message being shared by Canadian municipal leaders and wastewater professionals is to not flush anything but the 3Ps – pee, poop and paper (toilet paper).

In response to the rush on toilet paper, the CWWA said people may consider alternative sanitary products.  However, the association said these alternatives cannot be flushed.

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According to the CWWA, municipal sewer systems are built to handle human waste and toilet paper that is specifically designed to deteriorate quickly.  Anything else put down toilets or sinks causes problems that lead to clogs, blockages and wastewater equipment damage. Any of these situations can shut down sewer systems.

Fats, oils and grease (FOG) poured down the sink, congeal and line the sewer walls, then so-called “flushable” wipes, paper towels and hygiene products collect together with the grease to form clogs.  This can block toilets, home sewer lines, or form “fatbergs“, constricting the sewers of entire neighbourhoods. These clogs can also result in overflows of raw sewage into local rivers and lakes, according to the CWWA.

Raw sewage can backup into homes, likely requiring residents to evacuate their house for professional cleaning. Large blockages often require municipal staff to clear them, at a time when efforts and tax dollars need to be focused on critical services.

The CWWA said it has been sharing the 3Ps message for years, but it has never been more important than now.

Canadian municipalities are seeing a very significant upward spike in the number of clogs attributable to increased use of  “alternative” products such as toilet wipes, paper towels and even tissue papers, which do not break down like toilet paper.

The City of Ottawa’s Director of Infrastructure Services, Alain Gonthier, said in a tweet on March 21, 2020 that the city’s sewage system is seeing an increase in wipes.

“We need people in @ottawacity to spread the word. We are seeing an increase in wipes in the sewer system. These can clog sewers and pumps. Do NOT flush anything that isn’t the 3Ps – pee, poo or (toilet) paper. Put wipes in the garbage. Please RT!”, said Gonthier on Twitter.

In British Columbia, the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen (RDOS) issued a press release on March 18 advising residents not to flush sanitizing wipes down the toilet or pour  FOG down the drain.

“In this challenging time when we are spending more time at home as we do our part, we must be conscious that our homes have to function,” said Rina Seppen, RDOS wastewater utilities foreman in the release. “The last thing we need is to have the sewer lines clog and essential services stretched as we work to serve the public needs.”

For more information visit the CWWA website.

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