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News / Clark County News

Vancouver officials concerned toilet paper substitutes could cause blockages

By Jeffrey Mize, Columbian staff reporter, and
The Columbian
Published: March 19, 2020, 6:04am

With consumers snatching up every roll of toilet paper available, public agencies may face problems from residents flushing toilet paper substitutes.

The city of Vancouver says wastewater treatment providers nationwide are bracing for potential sewage blockages and overflows from an uptick in residents flushing napkins, anti-bacterial wipes and other items because of the coronavirus.

Those items should be placed in the garbage, not flushed down the toilet. Some contain tough nonwoven fibers that don’t break down the same way as toilet tissue.

“We have not detected an increase in wipes at this time, but we are extremely concerned,” Frank Dick, Vancouver wastewater engineering supervisor, said in a statement. “We are already spending a great amount of time and resources to remove large masses of wipes and nonwoven paper products from sewer pump stations and wastewater treatment facilities. The potential for an increase in these materials being flushed into the system now is enormous.”

Widespread fear over the coronavirus has created a shortage of antibacterial wipes, hand sanitizer and toilet paper. Earlier this month, an Australian newspaper printed eight blank pages for use as emergency toilet paper.

Vancouver, Clark County and other agencies have for years urged people to flush only human waste and toilet paper.

Even if products with “flushable” labeling do not clog residential pipes, they will obstruct pump stations that convey sewage from homes and businesses to treatment plants. They create a nasty wad of debris, often referred to as “rags,” that wastewater workers must remove by hand.

The Washington Legislature this year approved House Bill 2565, which establishes “Do Not Flush” labeling requirements for disposable wipes. The House and Senate approved the bill by large bipartisan majorities and have sent the legislation to Gov. Jay Inslee for his signature.

Jeffrey Mize: 360-735-4534; jeffrey.mize@columbian.com; twitter.com/JHarlanMize.

Columbian staff reporter