The city’s public utilities department says “flushable wipes” clogged a sewage pipe off Glen Eden Drive over the weekend, causing an estimated 39,000 gallons of raw sewage to spill into an unnamed tributary of Crabtree Creek.
The spill was reported shortly after 5 p.m. Sunday near Laurel Hills Park, and a city crew had it stopped by 11:30 p.m. The public utilities department says its workers were able to collect about 29,250 gallons of the sewage and pump it back into the sewer system.
Raleigh public utilities officials have long maintained that hygienic wipes, some of which are advertised as safe to flush down the toilet, don’t always break down and can get hung up in the sewage pipes.
Several years ago, the city tested various paper products, including facial tissues and wipes, to see how quickly they disintegrated in a beaker of swirling water. Toilet paper began to fall apart almost immediately, while the tissues and wipes – even those sold as flushable – remained almost completely intact.
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The Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry, based in Cary, acknowledges that consumers may flush wipes that aren’t designed to be. INDA has developed a “Do Not Flush” symbol that it encourages its member companies to include on nonflushable wipe products, and it urges consumers to take heed.
But INDA rejects the notion that the wipes blamed on sewage clogs are in fact the flushable kind. The organization has developed industry guidelines for determining what qualifies as a “flushable” wipe and says its tests show that wipes that meet the guidelines do break down in a reasonable amount of time.
The city of Raleigh isn’t buying it, though. It maintains that only “water, human waste and toilet tissue” should be sent into the sewer system.