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Coronavirus Sanitation: 'No Wipes In The Pipes,' Influx Of Non-Toilet Paper Items Being Flushed

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) - Long lines and empty shelves caused by the coronavirus have led to a toilet paper shortage, which has caused a ripple effect — going all the way to city sewer systems.

With the insufficient supply of bathroom paper products, more Californians are buying flushable wipes, baby wipes, and other self-care paper products. The problem is the so-called flushable wipes and other products can cause problems in sanitary sewer systems.

The bathroom hygiene products are marketed as flushable, but wastewater officials say that's misleading. Items like flushable wipes, paper towels, cotton swabs, hair, trash, debris, and hygiene products can cause debilitating sewer blockages.

"They can actually rag up inside and actually get stuck in there so that it can't move and pull that sewage up," Rosemary Clark, Director of Operations for the Sacramento Area Sewer District, told CBS13 in 2018.

Rosemary said the difference between toilet paper and flushable wipes is toilet paper breaks down, while the wipes remain intact through sewer systems.

(credit: City of Rockwall/CBS DFW)

Officials in Rockwall, Texas recently removed a large clog from a station that pumps wastewater to a treatment plant. The blockage was made up of about 80% flushable wipes combined with twigs, sticks, a plastic soda bottle, feminine hygiene products, and even a pair of underwear, according to

Workers say similar clogs and blockages are happening too often, and are taking a toll on sewer systems.

"Just because it can be flushed doesn't mean it should be flushed," Rosemary said. "It is causing quite a big maintenance issue, and that costs money."

The concern is a clog so bad that raw sewage begins to back up in a home or on the streets.

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