Toilet paper shortage? Why you shouldn't flush wipes down the toilet during COVID-19 outbreak

RALEIGH -- In the time of the novel coronavirus, and as people buy up toilet paper, many people are also buying up and using extra sanitizing wipes.

And if you flush them down the toilet, it could cause big problems for sewage and water service, according to officials in Raleigh, North Carolina.

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Under normal circumstances, Ed Buchan, Raleigh Water Senior Utilities Analyst, said people improperly disposing of baby wipes and sanitizing wipes along with kitchen grease, causes up to about 50 sewage spills a year.

"They can basically stick to the sides of the pipes," Buchan said. "They also stick to grease that is also inside the pipes and then they block the pipe, sewage backs up, it'll come out of manholes into the environment. A lot of sewer lines are right beside creeks and it'll discharge into a creek and cause a water quality problem so we want to avoid that."

Buchan and other city utilities staff have seen the empty store shelves and are urging people who are buying those extra wipes to throw them in the trash where they belong, not the toilet.

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"We're just concerned that it may get worse if people are using more wipes for sanitation purposes," Buchan said. "They're gone when you flush it but they don't go far. They'll just get to some downstream point in the sewer line and accumulate."

Raleigh Water is asking for people's help with protecting the sewage system while trying to help customers, reconnecting water to those who have unpaid bills and suspending water service disconnects during the coronavirus outbreak.

"We understand that this could be a financially stressful time for a lot of people and in the end, they have to have water to make sure that they can maintain personal hygiene, cooking, anything like that, we want to make sure they have that service during this time," Buchan said.

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