No royal flush

DENNIS WATTS, City of Norfolk Water and Sewer Director, has been giving presentations to school kids and also adults about what not to flush and put down the drain. He shows them how “flushable” wipes don’t disintegrate.

The label on the disposable paper product may say it can be flushed.

But, those “disposable” paper products are causing a lot of problems in city drainage systems.

“Sewage drainage pipes are meant for carrying water, excrement and toilet paper and that’s absolutely it,” said Dennis Watts, Norfolk’s water and sewer director. “Baby wipes, tissues, diapers and feminine products should all go into the trash and not into the toilet.”

When it comes to items found in the city’s drainage pipes, Watts has seen it all.

City workers have removed toys, towels, articles of clothing and once even a wedding dress from Norfolk’s sewage pipes. It’s a wonder those items can make it down the drain, but the person who thinks they are getting rid of a problem is only causing a bigger one, Watts said.

“When you put wipes and any other products that aren’t supposed to be flushed down your drains, you greatly increase the likelihood of having a blockage,” Watts said. “A blocked sewage pipe doesn’t let sewer water go anywhere except back into people’s homes, out manholes and into basements.”

A recent Consumer Reports test tested several brands of disposable wipes that were labeled flushable to see if they would dissolve in water. Testers found that while toilet paper disintegrated after about eight seconds, the disposable wipes hadn’t broken down after 30 minutes.

Watts said that even when those items make it through the drainage pipes, they can wreak havoc with the filtering and cleaning system at the wastewater treatment plant.

Norfolk is not the only city that is spending many man-hours and funds to remove debris from sewage pipes.

Metropolitan cities like Los Angeles have determined non-flushable items in drainage systems to be a major problem.

Last summer in London, England, a combination of cooking oils and disposable wipes created a 15-ton clog in one of the city’s pipes.

An effort is being made in many cities to educate the citizens about what can and cannot be put into the drainage system. One campaign tells people to flush only the Three P’s: Pee, Poop and (toilet) Paper.

“The toilet is not a trash can. If you have grease to dispose of, pour it into a can or other container, let it cool and then pour it into the trash,” Watts said. “Some people think that as long as they run hot water at the same time as they pour the oil down the drain that it won’t stick to the pipes, but it will. The water and the oil soon cools in the pipes and adheres to the interior, causing it to build up with sediment and eventually clog.”

Other items that should never be flushed down a toilet are kitty litter, coffee grounds, condoms and dental floss.

“Medications should never be flushed down the toilet. Take them to the approved disposal site in the entrance of the Norfolk Police Station,” Watts said.

Watts said household cleaning products should also never be flushed or put down the kitchen drain as those chemicals will eventually reach the Elkhorn River. Instead, citizens can take those items to the Household Hazardous Waste Facility at 610 E. Monroe Ave.

For more information about keeping city pipes clog free, go to the city’s wastewater website at

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