Flushed!

On November 20, WCAX-3’s “News at 5:30” gave viewers an uncomfortable glimpse of what happens when they use their sinks and toilets as trash disposals. Kudos to WCAX for its willingness to show images of “The gross truth about what’s lurking in the sewer.”

Reporter Jennifer Costa interviewed Matt Dow, director of Burlington’s Main, North, and East Wastewater plants. Dow spoke candidly about the difficulty – and cost – of coping with congealed fats in Burlington’s 50 miles of sewer lines and in its treatment facilities.

Dow said the problem is compounded by so-called “flushable” paper-fiber products such as hand wipes, baby wipes, and sanitary pads. Contrary to advertising, they don’t dissolve rapidly, if at all. When combined with the fats, oils, and greases (FOGs) in the system, they can congeal, cause blockages, and impede the process of wastewater treatment.

WCAX’s article is indicative of  growing public awareness about  the problem throughout the country. A quick Google search brings up 300,000 news items about “fatbergs” — a new vernacular term referring to the huge masses of FOGs that too often accumulate in  sewer systems — including over 59,000 videos. Most are public service videos produced by water quality nonprofits and municipal governments, intended to improve public knowledge of the infrastructure beneath their feet and to suggest ways citizens can reduce their contribution to water pollution, particularly FOGs and flushables. (Above: A FOG/”flushable” clog, photo courtesy of Burlington Public Works Dept.)

As public awareness grows, people are starting to take action. “Flushables” are adding such a maintenance burden to public systems – costing the public many millions of tax dollars – that citizens’ groups in New York, Washington D.C., and other cities have launched class action suits against “flushables” manufacturers.

Vermont municipalities can keep the PR momentum going by using their websites and newsletters to inform customers about the problem and to provide tips on solving it. Burlington Public Works Department, for example, provides an online guide to help consumers reduce their FOG output: https://www.burlingtonvt.gov/DPW/Grease-Management

It’s time to get the information out there. As Matt Dow summed it up, “People have to care.”

Thanks again to Matt Dow, Jennifer Costa, and WCAX-3! To see the whole feature, go to: http://www.wcax.com/content/news/Flushed-How-what-goes-down-can-really-mess-things-up-458906083.html

As always, GMWEA welcomes your contribution to this blog! If you have questions about or experience with fatbergs and flushables, please leave a comment here.

To return to GMWEA’s website, click here: www.gmwea

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