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A toilet paper shortage and increased cleaning might have caused a spike in raw sewage spills in the US

Haven Orecchio-Egresitz , Business Insider US
 Mar 20, 2020, 06:41 PM
California
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  • A Northern California County is seeing a spike in sewage spills that appears to be related to people flushing inappropriate items while stuck home during the coronavirus.
  • Public works departments across the county have been preparing for issues related to increased use of toilet paper substitutes and wipes.
  • Cities are trying to get the word out to "Trash it. Don't flush it."
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

As if the coronavirus pandemic couldn't get any more unsettling, now there's the possibility of raw sewage flowing through the streets.

Public works employees in Northern California have been bouncing between sewage spills lately. They think the cause of the spike in wastewater issues might be tied to people flushing items other than toilet paper.

"I'm sure it's happening all across the state," Tony Rubio, district manager of a sanitary district in Marin, told the San Francisco Chronicle. "It's not a maintenance problem we normally have to deal with."

The coronavirus has closed schools and businesses and prompted many to panic shop for toilet paper and anti-bacterial wipes. There is a concern that some may be flushing wipes and other inappropriate items down the toilet, which can cause sewage lines to back up.

Officials at the California State Water Board told the Chronicle that it was too early to be certain that the coronavirus was driving the uptick in sewer problems, but the agency issued a public notice this week advising people to flush only toilet paper down the can.

See also: Covid-19 update: SA is getting price controls – here’s everything on the list

"People are really nervous about this virus and they're flushing anything they can use down the toilet," Mike Prinz, general manager of the Las Gallinas district, told the Chronicle. "If people are using non-flushables, there's a good probability that they're going to contribute to a spill not far away from their home."

In New York City, which is also facing a shutdown due to the coronavirus, there hasn't been a spike in sewage issues, a Department of Environmental Protection spokesman told Insider.

"This is an issue NYC tracks closely," Edward Timbers told Insider. "There has been no recent spike here, rather when items are improperly disposed of into the sewer system they accumulate over time."

Still, bracing for an extended period of time where more people are spending time at home and might be using an increased amount of paper towels and wipes, the city is trying to get the word out about where to dispose of those items.

Their recommendation: "Trash it. Don't flush it."

"Now that more of us are at home during the day, we might find our households running through toilet paper a little bit faster than usual," the city tweeted. "Though there is no need to hoard supplies, there is no reason you should be flushing anything other than toilet paper!"

These concerns are not limited to the US, either.

Richard Wilding, a professor of supply chain strategy at Cranfield School of Management, told The Guardian that the UK is also in danger of sewer gridlock due to the toilet paper substitutes many are likely to use during the pandemic.

"We are seeing shortages of toilet paper but worryingly also shortages of paper kitchen towels and industrial paper towel used, for example, in garages and workshops and other wipe products," he told the Guardian. "If kitchen towels, baby wipes or industrial papers are used as a replacement for toilet paper, our sewage systems could readily become blocked with the resulting chaos and increased health risks associated with this. Ultimately, water companies may not have the infrastructure and equipment to unblock the sewer system."

The coronavirus COVID-19 has infected more than 235,000 people and killed nearly 10,000. The highly contagious virus is thought to be spread through airborne particles from an infected person's coughs or sneezes. It may also spread through fecal matter.

One of the best ways to prevent getting the illness is by frequently washing your hands for at least 20 seconds, the CDC has said.

If you dry them on a paper towel, though, maybe don't flush it.

For more information direct from the source, see also:

the NICD hotline for Covid-19 is: 0800-029-999.

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