A crew clears wipes and other debris at the bottom of the giant bar screen at the Northeast Sewage Pumping Station in Detroit. The overall effort, including the cleaning of the wet well, took more than six weeks and cost an estimated $450,000.

A crew clears wipes and other debris at the bottom of the giant bar screen at the Northeast Sewage Pumping Station in Detroit. The overall effort, including the cleaning of the wet well, took more than six weeks and cost an estimated $450,000.

Photo provided by Macomb County Public Works Office


Flushed wipes ‘wreaking havoc’ on pipes, pump stations

By: Nick Mordowanec | Metro | Published April 15, 2021

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METRO DETROIT — Not all wipes are disposable, even if packages claim otherwise.

That is the message being relayed by Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller and Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner Jim Nash, both of whom recently cautioned that disposable wipe use has increased during the pandemic and is “wreaking havoc” on sewer pipes and pump stations.

That includes wipes claimed by companies to be “flushable” and “biodegradable.”

“In early 2018, approximately 70 tons of debris that had accumulated over a period of three years was removed from the Northeast Sewage Pumping Station in Detroit,” Miller said in a statement. “Three years later, a crew that recently completed a cleaning removed approximately 270 tons of debris. That’s a huge — and troubling — increase.

“It’s unfortunate that people continue to flush these wipes. It is causing more problems and more expense for every sewer system,” Miller said. “Throw them in the garbage after use. Do not flush them down the toilet.”

Nash said the flushed wipes form clumps that develop into hard masses, creating blockages in sewer pipes. He said an “uptick of issues” has been experienced at the Oakland-Macomb Interceptor sewer and pumping station.

“It is taking crews longer than expected to clean the systems due to the build-up of ‘flushable’ wipes,” Nash said. “The cost of cleaning the wipes is costly to the system and its ratepayers.”

Due to more wipes entering the system, the county officials stated that crews at the Northeast Sewage Pumping Station will begin removing wipes twice a year moving forward. That station, located on State Fair near Outer Drive in Detroit, handles sanitary sewage for 23 total Macomb and Oakland communities.

One theory as to why wipe use has immensely increased the past year is that more people are home, overall — whether working remotely or having kids not at school full time.

To put the situation into perspective, about 1,000 pounds worth of wipes were flushed down toilets per week prior to the pandemic, eventually reaching the Clintondale Pumping Station in Clinton Township.

Once COVID-19 hit and stay-at-home orders were factored into the equation, that average number jumped to approximately 4,000 pounds per week.

This isn’t the first instance of Miller’s office dealing with gigantic wipe accumulation.

In 2018, a 19-ton mass of wipes and grease, later coined the “Fatberg,” was removed from a local sewer system. One year later, a 1-ton mass of thousands of wipes and called the “Ragball” was removed.

Miller warns that the consistent flushing of such wipes could collectively cost municipalities “hundreds of millions of dollars” to fix in the future.

Macomb and Oakland counties have partnered with the Great Lakes Water Authority on a YouTube video called “Flushables” that is meant to inform and encourage better awareness toward wipes.

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