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Local plumbers see 40% increase in pipe clogs due to wipes being flushed

NOW: Local plumbers see 40% increase in pipe clogs due to wipes being flushed

MILWAUKEE, Wis. (CBS 58) -We’ve seen wipes being cleared off store shelves during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the way people are disposing of them is ending up costing them hundreds if not thousands of dollars.

Local plumbers say they’ve seen a nearly 40% increase in calls for clogged pipes and sewer systems because people are flushing wipes down the toilet instead of throwing them in the garbage.

Roman Electric Company, serves six counties in Wisconsin's southeast region. They say the rise in calls happened within the last six weeks, in fact they’re so busy, they’re hiring more help.

“We have experienced an increase in people using the flushing the wipes, the heavier wipes. It’s almost like a small rag versus toilet paper,” said Jim Andersen, Master Plumber at Roman Electric Co.

Racine Water and Wastewater Utility wants people to remember when they flush a wipe down the toilet, it ends up at a wastewater treatment plant or sewage.

“Wipes can cause havoc with pumps, and when pumps get bound up with wipes they stop working, and when pumps stop working wastewater backs up into people’s basements,” said Keith Haas, General Manager at Racine Water and Wastewater Utility.

The Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District shared a recent picture of a clog at the Port Washington road pumping station. The pipe was completely clogged by wipes.

“I’m an MMSD commissioner and we have been stressing for several years that flushable wipes are not flushable and are bad for the sewer system,” said Bryan Kennedy, The Mayor of Glendale.

“They’re very tough and they’re very strong, by the time they get to us, they’re the same piece that you flush down the toilet,” adds Haas.

Haas says many homeowners don’t know they’re most likely responsible for the clog that happens in the lateral pipe, the pipe that connects the home to the sanitary sewer.

Andersen says it could take an hour to unclog a toilet but a sewer could take up to four hours, and extensive damage could take even longer.

“It can go from a common service call of a couple hundred dollars well on up to thousands,” said Andersen.

“Plumbers are calling because people are flushing them down the toilet, they’re getting stuck in the small diameter pipe in your front yard and they’re not even making it to the wastewater plant,” adds Haas.

The solution? Experts say avoid flushing any wipe down the toilet, whether it be flushable wet wipes, baby wipes or cleaning wipes. They say the only thing that can go down the toilet, is toilet paper.

“We would prefer as an industry that you use the trash can as opposed as using the toilet as a trash can,” said Haas.

Haas says people should also keep in mind that if a plumber needs to go to your home, you are risking COVID-19 exposure to them and vice versa.  

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