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Coronavirus Update: Disinfecting Wipes Being Flushed Down Toilets Causing Major Pipe Problems

SAN RAFAEL (KPIX 5) -- Amid the coronavirus scare, sterilizing cleaning wipes are flying off of store shelves. Unfortunately, many of those wipes are ending up in sewer systems.

A lot of people are using an increasing number of those wipes to keep things clean out of coronavirus concerns. Workers at sanitation and sewage districts across the Bay Area want this to stop because the wipes are clogging up the pipes.

Wes Fredenburg runs one of the vac trucks for the San Rafael Sanitation District. His job is to clear sewer lines. He has been fighting wipes for the last few days.

"They get snagged in the pipes and cause a build up, cause a blockage and overflow. Or they can get caught in a pump and stop the pump," said Fredenburg.

He showed KPIX 5 example of how rags and wipes can clog up and completely jammed a pump. Not very sanitary for sanitary wipes.

"They just don't break down. It's like flushing rags down the toilet," said Fredenburg.

By way of demonstration to prove the point for KPIX cameras, a bowl with water were set up. After putting in equal parts toilet paper and equal parts wipe and stirring, the TP quickly starts to break down. Meanwhile, the wipe remains intact in a single piece.

"It's a pretty important issue for waste water agencies," said Central Marin Sanitation Agency General Manager Jason Dow.

He says one issue with the wipes is the labeling. Some brands actually say they are "flushable."

"There's legislation that's we're looking at requiring manufacturers of wipes to use proper labeling. So, if there's synthetic material in the wipe, like plastic or regenerated cellulose, you can't label them as 'flushable' anymore," explained Dow.

Bottom line, regardless of what the label says, those wipes should be put in the trash, not toilets.

"Help us out. Keep your wipes out of our pipes!" said Fredenburg.

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