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Flushable wipes, grease, plastic causing trouble for Stonington sewer system

Stonington -- The Water Pollution Control Authority is spending about $40,000 a year to unclog and repair sewer system pumps damaged by items residents keep flushing down their toilets and drains such as so-called flushable wipes, cooking grease and various plastics.

The costs are then passed on to sewer system users through higher fees. Fees here have gone up significantly in each of the past three years after many years of no increases.

Frustrated WPCA Director Douglas Nettleton recently sought to bring attention to the problem by asking town officials to post information about the problem on social media, possibly with a graphic photo of items removed from a clogged pump on Diving Street in the borough. The clog came just three days after WPCA employees unclogged the pump initially.

Nettleton said the use of municipal sewer systems “as garbage pails” is a huge problem across the country.

Municipalities have to spend money on repairs and labor, taking employees away from performing other tasks.

“People just need to remember the three 'Ps' when using the toilet,” he said. "Pee, poop and (toilet) paper. Everything else goes in the garbage,” he said.

Nettleton said one of the biggest problem comes from moist wipes marketed as flushable.

“They are flushable but so is a golf ball,” he said about the wipes which jam the pumps and cause them to burn out. He said employees have to pull the large pumps out of the water to unclog them or send the equipment out for repairs while installing a temporary replacement pump.

“We’re having a lot of premature failure of pumps,” he said.

“People have to understand that the sewage system and pumps are not designed to handle waste such as rags, grease, plastic bags, twist ties, feminine products, plastics, and so called flushable wipes. The discharge of these products to the sewer system only serves to increase the chances of a system failure and the discharge of sewage from the system to our waterways,” wrote Nettleton in his email to First Selectman Rob Simmons.

Among the other problems are used condoms, plastic tampon applicators and cooking grease.

The town’s many restaurants and food establishments are required to have grease traps and dispose of grease in barrels. While yellow fryalator grease is recyclable, there is a cost to dispose of so called brown grease. He said, however, that some business and homeowners, dump grease down drains.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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