"Flushable" wipes causing problems for Thiensville sewer system

THIENSVILLE (WITI) -- Cleaning wipes and towels advertised as "flushable" have been causing problems in Thiensville! If it weren't for workers removing these "flushable" items from the Thiensville sewer system on a daily basis, the system could be in danger of failing.

The Director of Public Works Andy LaFond says the blame lies with convenience products, often labeled as "flushable" -- including disinfecting wipes, mop refills, toss-in toilet bowl wands and baby wipes.

LaFond says these products don't break down fast enough in the sewer system.

"They're labeled flushable because they do, indeed flush, but they don't break down in the same manner as toilet paper. I've seen tests where after three days, the wipes are still solid," LaFond said.

LaFond says the problems with the wipes started about five years ago, and has gotten to the point where his staff has to clean screen at the sewer system lift station every day to stop the wipes from reaching the pipes. 

"It's a messy, unpleasant job that can take about an hour," LaFond said.

Without this process, LaFond says the sewer pumps would stop working and there would be a system-wide failure.

Thiensville isn't the only community with this problem. A letter describing a similar problem  in Waukesha last year. The letter said crews are "regularly unclogging mounds of rags and wipes from pumps at considerable expense."

Plumbers are reporting problems with these "flushable" products as well.

"Oftentimes when we break apart the sewer to repair it, we pull paper towels and moist towelettes out in their entirety. We're seeing that they're not breaking up in nearly enough time," Kurt Ihn with Ihn Plumbing and Foundation Repair said.

LaFond says this problem could prove even more costly long-term.

"It's gonna take a lot of public education, but ultimately it will probably take upgraded equipment in order to handle it," LaFond said.

Officials advise consumers do not flush these "flushable" products in order to avoid sewer problems.