UPSTATE, S.C. (WSPA) – Wipes have always been a huge problem for sewage systems across the Upstate. Wastewater treatment technicians in Greenville were already removing clogs caused by heaps of non-flushable materials getting entangled in water pumps in the sewer system. However, officials told 7 News they’ve seen these blockages worsen over the course of the pandemic.

According to Toby Humphries, collections and maintenance manager at Renewable Water Resources (ReWa) in Greenville, a large amount of these blockages are caused by residents flushing wet wipes down their toilets during the pandemic.

Courtesy of ReWa

“I think when we had the toilet paper shortage people migrated towards diaper wipes, which are convenient but just because it says it’s flushable doesn’t mean it should be flushed,” Humphries said.

From March 2020 until now, ReWa technicians have manually removed 195 blockages caused by wet wipes from water pumps at their wastewater treatment lift stations.

Humphries said this is a 35 percent increase from previous years and an extra $50,000 in maintenance costs.

ReWa provides water resources to around 500,000 residents through their 83 wastewater lift stations scattered across the Upstate. Technicians are removing an average of approximately 5 clogs per week.

Rick Jolley, Deputy Chief Operating Officer at Spartanburg Water said their technicians haven’t noticed an increase in residents flushing wet wipes during the pandemic.

However, Jolley said wet wipe-clogged water pumps have been a consistent issue at stations throughout the county and have a negative impact on residents and the environment.

Clifton 4 water pump. Courtesy of Spartanburg Water.

“When we have a backup in a sewer line or a sanitary sewer overflow our main concern is the impact on our customers and the environment,” Jolley said, “Another issue is the high cost we incur hauling away large amounts of wipes at the treatment facility.”

In addition to the constant hauling away of the massive amounts of wipes that accumulate in the water pumps, officials at ReWa said at times their technicians work late hours to remove these clogs from the sewage system.

“The unclogging of pipes is not done on a business hour basis. We’ve got guys working after hours especially after storms and heavy wet weather because it flushes these rags in abundance to our stations,” Toby Humphries, collections and maintenance manager at ReWa said.

Humphries said wet wipes are not designed to be flushed down the toilet — even if manufacturers label the product as “flushable”.

Unlike tissue, the tough fibers in wet wipes do not break down fast enough and can snag on pipes and machinery at wastewater treatment facilities.

Humphries said residents with septic tanks should avoid flushing anything other than tissue as well.

According to Spartanburg Water, “flushable” means products will clear your toilet bowl. It does not mean they will clear your pipes.

Although wet wipes are the main culprit for the clogs—- as the wipes travel to pump stations they mix with grease and other byproducts, forming ‘fat bergs’. These fat bergs contribute to blocking sewer lines, cutting down water flow and will ultimately cause sewer system backups.

Officials at water treatment facilities said there are ways residents can do their part to help prevent these blockages from forming, here’s a few tips:

  • Dispose of wipes in the trashcan instead of flushing them down the toilet.
  • Avoid flushing anything down the toilet that’s not bodily waste or toilet paper.
  • Avoid flushing grease, paper towels or other non-flushable items down the toilet.

Click here to learn more about how to protect your pipes and what not to flush.