‘Flushable’ products still a problem for wastewater collection system
WILLMAR — Certain consumer products touted as disposable and even flushable, but which don’t dissolve like toilet paper, continue to cause problems for operators of Willmar’s wastewater collection system.
Operators say the amount of product such as baby wipes, diapers, feminine products, paper towels and dental floss being disposed of in the collection system has probably stayed the same during the past couple of months.
The problem particularly affects lift stations. The purpose of a lift station is to pump wastewater to a high point so it can flow by gravity to the treatment plant, located west of town.
An Aug. 10 Tribune story reported that so-called flushable and disposable products clog and damage lift station pumps. Those problems could result in wastewater backup into homes and businesses.
Debris larger than an eighth of an inch that makes it past the pumps must be screened at the plant before the wastewater can be treated. The stuff is dried and bagged and taken to the Kandiyohi County Landfill for disposal.
Operators say the screening and bagging process results in an additional expense that could be avoided if users dispose of their products in the trash instead of disposing of it down the drain.
“I don’t think we’ve really seen a considerable reduction in the amount of rags that are coming on through the system,’’ said Wastewater Treatment Facility Superintendent Colleen Thompson, referring to products that don’t dissolve like toilet paper.
“The product we screen out ends up in the landfill. It’s best that we prevent those products and get them to the trash can or garbage can right away, rather than flow miles through our conveyance system and get out here. There is potential for clogging of the pipes and backing up into your homes,’’ Thompson said.
“But I think the more we educate the public on what not to put down the system, I think in time we will see an improvement. I think if people know what the right thing is to do, they’re going to do it. What we need to do is educate the public on what not to put down the drain,’’ said Thompson.
“The message here basically is that we really want to see human waste and toilet paper go down the toilet and minimize the amount of product that’s getting to the lift stations through the conveyance system and out here.’’
Tom Templer, lift station mechanic, said each lift station has two pumps. The pumps are used evenly to keep them working. Templer has noticed that dental floss can wreck the seals in a pump, resulting in a $200 to $300 repair and loss of the pump for a couple of days.
If one pump fails the other takes over, but then there’s no redundancy, he said.
“When those things happen, you don’t sleep real good at night because you don’t want something to happen,’’ Templer said.
Thompson also asks users to keep fats, oils and grease out of the system by disposing of grease products in the trash rather than pouring those down the drain. She said grease products harden and solidify and make the pipes smaller, which can also cause backups.
“I think we all kind of get in a rut,’’ Thompson said. “We get into a routine. We want to take the easy way out, the simple way. But if we keep educating the public and pounding this information at them, then eventually we will see some improvement. But I think it’s going to take some time.’’