Those extra-moist personal wet wipes aren't just for the baby any longer.
Adult use of brands such as Dude Wipes and One Wipe Charlies has led to a multibillion-dollar wet-wipe industry that continues to grow in popularity. The only problem is those "flushable" wet wipes have become a real pain in the posterior for city sewer systems.
Steve Smith, Canal Winchester's water reclamation superintendent, said he and his team have seen the mess firsthand. He shared photos at the Jan. 16 City Council work session of a blackened ball of wipes that wreaked havoc on one of the city's 11 pumping stations.
"This has been going on for the past 10 years," Smith said. "These wipes take years to degrade.
"People aren't (flushing) vindictively, they're just ignorant to what these wipes can do to our sewer system, and the companies that make them aren't cooperating."
The problem costs utilities in the U.S. $1 billion annually, according to the National Association of Clean Water Agencies.
The issue received international attention last September when workers removed a 10-ton glob of wet wipes and grease, known as "fatberg," from sewers in London, England. According to BBC news reports, the clog was nearly as big as a blue whale.
While the scale of damage is smaller, Canal Winchester has spent thousands of dollars on repairs and upkeep caused by flushable wipes, Smith said.
ThisWeek Community News archives show he reported in 2009 the city spent $25,000 on clearing away clogs that year caused by supposedly disposable wipes and in 2015, $4,000 went to install a high-capacity pump to deal with clogging issues.
Smith said last week the city installed a machine in 2011 that cost nearly $250,000 to remove wipes at the water plant. However, it doesn't prevent clogs at pump stations; the wipes get entangled with the pump blades.
"On south Gender Road, we had to replace three to four pumps with about $20,000 in damage," he said.
The city, which serves about 12,000 residents, has been working to combat the problem with bill stuffers and information on its Facebook page and in newsletters. Flyers also have been delivered to Pickerington residents serviced by the city.
Smith said Canal Winchester spends more than $4,000 annually to remove wipes, tampon applicators, Q-tips and other items from pumping stations.
"Even if the pumps aren't destroyed, their lifespan is diminished," he said.