Sanitary wipes clogging Hawaii pipes

Sanitary wipes clogging Hawaii pipes

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - There are 2,100 miles of sewer pipe under Oahu's streets. What's flushed down toilets gets sent to pump stations.

But the journey that starts in the bowl often ends in a bind, and city crews have to pull balls of sanitary wipes and other paper products from plugged pipes.

"The diaper wipes, the Clorox wipes, they don't break down at all.  And it gets clogged into the pump system," said Department of Environmental Services director Lori Kahikina.

The growing popularity of "flushable" sanitary wipes is causing sewer problems all over the country, including Hawaii.  The material doesn't disintegrate as quickly as toilet paper and can jam machinery at the sewage plant.

Kahikina said at least once a week clogs must be cleared from the Oahu's 70 pump stations.

"Anything that comes out of your body, that's the only thing that should go down the toilet, including the toilet paper," she said. "It's number one, number two and toilet paper.  That's it!"

But feminine products, dental floss and paper towels are flushed. They expand and catch other stuff, creating a bundle that blocks the flow of wastewater.

"The paper towels, we get it a lot in the urban area, the hospitals, the restaurants," Kahikina said.

Flushing diapers down the toilet is a constant problem in the Laie area, where 700 homes have individual sewer pumps.

"We get adult diapers, kids diapers.  We get everything in those little pumps," Kahikina said.  "Once it goes down, that particular home is affected. You can't flush your toilet, you can't use your shower until our guys go out there and clean it out for you."

The frequent flushing of what shouldn't be flushed has the city thinking about regulating what goes down the toilet bowl.  One New York community recently put traps in pipes to pinpoint the source of a frequent plug.  Kahikina said that wouldn't be easy to do here.

"To enforce that for our system would be very difficult.  Let's say it's in one pump station.  There are hundreds of homes connected to that.  How we can pinpoint which it's coming from would be very difficult," she said.

The next time you want to flush something that might clog a pipe or break a pump, remember taxpayers pay for the fix.  That's a waste.

Copyright 2013 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.