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Hampton buying grinders to keep sewer lines clear

| Wednesday, July 2, 2014, 9:06 p.m.
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This photo shows a solid mass of disposable wipes removed from Hampton sewage-treatment equipment.
Deborah Deasy | Hampton Journal
Jim Degnan, director of the Hampton Township Department of Environmental Services, reads the instructions for discarding on a container of disposable wipes.
Deborah Deasy | Hampton Journal
Jim Degnan is the director of the Hampton Township Department of Environmental Services.

Breaking up is hard to do for what some folks flush down toilets.

Disposable wipes, for example, top the list.

The cloth-based squares clog pumps in sewage-treatment plants — not to mention pipes under backyards — and can be more costly than convenient.

“The bottom line is these products do not break down in the water stream,” said James Degnan, director of the Hampton Township Department of Environmental Services.

“If people simply threw them in the trash, versus flushing them down the toilet or putting them down the drain, they could save themselves hundreds of dollars in plumber's expenses.”

Trashing the wipes also might save people future tax dollars.

To help cope with the wipes, Hampton Council voted June 25 to spend $461,515 for a package of sewage-treatment equipment, including two wastewater grinders known as Dimminutors.

They will replace a pair of worn-out comminutors that shred fiber-based products, including disposable wipes, that flow into Hampton's sewage-treatment plant off Duncan Avenue, the township's biggest physical asset.

“If we didn't have a rag (disposable wipes) problem, we wouldn't be spending nearly $300,000 on these two pieces of equipment,” Degnan said of the Dimminutors.

“As costs are increased to my department, or any other sanitary authority, those costs unfortunately are passed on,” he said.

Simply throwing away disposable wipes “can alleviate literally hundreds of dollars in a plumber's bill for your own personal (sewer) line, and future expenses that are going to be generated because we have to deal with these waste products,” Degnan said.

“These things are destroying systems not just in the United States, but around the world,” Degnan said.

“This is not just a problem we're dealing with in Hampton.”

Are local plumbers noticing an increase in sewer line problems involving disposable wipes?

“Definitely,” said Terry Mertz, owner of Terry's Plumbing in Ross Township.

If a sewer pipe in a yard is flattened or invaded by tree roots, disposable wipes then can ball up and get stuck in the narrowed pipe or roots, and that ultimately can create a blockage that leads to a plumbing bill.

Unlike toilet paper, which breaks down and can flow through tree roots, disposable wipes become caught in roots.

“I pull roots out, but once I pull roots out, there's a big softball on the end of my cable” full of wipes, Mertz said.

“They don't break down,” Mertz said. “Get a few of them together, and you can have a bulletproof vest.”

Feminine products also pose problems for sewer systems.

“Basically, there are a lot of materials that were never designed to be flushed down a toilet or put down a drain, but people do it anyway. It's a convenience,” Degnan said.

Deborah Deasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6369 or ddeasy@tribweb.com.

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