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Wipes Clogging Montgomery County Sewer Lines, Blamed for Sewage Spill

Residents are being urged not to flush sanitary wipes, baby wipes and other products. "The three p's are the only things you should flush," a spokeswoman says.

Residents are being urged not to flush sanitary wipes, baby wipes and other products. The materials don't deteriorate, clogging pipes and pumps. Credit: Screenshot from WJLA TV
Residents are being urged not to flush sanitary wipes, baby wipes and other products. The materials don't deteriorate, clogging pipes and pumps. Credit: Screenshot from WJLA TV

Sanitary cloths, feminine care wipes, paper towels and baby wipes flushed down the toilet are clogging Montgomery County sewer lines and costing taxpayers money.

When 15,810 gallons of raw sewage oozed out of a manhole near 6120 Executive Boulevard in Rockville on March 1, repair crews determined a clump of "disposable" wipes blocked sewer pipes, causing the spill. Much of the untreated water ran into a creek that feeds into the Cabin John watershed.

"It's a huge problem," Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission spokeswoman Lyn Riggins told WJLA TV. "Your toilet is not a trash can."

WSSC, which oversees 5,400 miles of sewer lines across Montgomery and Prince George's Counties, says wipes marketed as flushable clog the system’s pipes and pumps because they don’t degrade.

At the water company's Capitol Heights pumping station, a mechanical lift is used to pluck intact wipes from wet wells before they become lodged in the station's high-pressure pumps. On average, six tons of wipes are removed from the system each week.

"The message is really simple, the three p's are the only things you should flush: pee, poop and paper, and that's toilet paper," Riggins said.

Over the last year, WSSC has spent $1.4 million installing industrial-sized garbage disposals, called grinders, at 17 of its 49 pumping stations.

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