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Wipes snarl the pipes: A reminder of what not to flush as we tackle COVID-19

Plumbers and public officials alike are asking Americans to think before they flush.

Sewage systems and toilets are clogging as Americans clean their homes with disinfectant wipes and turn to paper towels, napkins and baby wipes to cope with the lack of toilet paper. Tamir Kalifa/The New York Times

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Americans across the country braced for the coronavirus by stocking up on toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and disinfectant wipes — but they haven’t caught on to the warnings that come with an abundance of sanitary products, despite the #WipesClogPipes posts swirling around Twitter. 

Just because you CAN, doesn’t mean you SHOULD flush it,” Lexington Department of Public Works officials said. “Many are sanitizing the high touch surfaces around them during #COVID19 — just know that flushing wipes contributes to sewer backups. Even wipes labeled as ‘flushable’ can lead to toilet and pipe blockages.”

Revere officials also made a post of their own on Friday to reiterate the damage done when residents flush their disinfectant wipes down the toilet. 

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“Important Notice: Please do not flush any type of wipe other than toilet paper down the toilet,” officials said in their post. “This image at one of our local pump stations today is the result, which will cause sewer backups across the city and possibly even into your homes.”

On March 13, the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority released a statement reminding residents of what not to flush.

“Products that might seem safe to flush down the toilet, such as personal care wipes, dental floss and paper towels, don’t dissolve quickly – or at all – in water,” officials said. “Remember that wipes clog pipes!”

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Even at the national level, the message rang loud and clear: “‘Wipes’ and paper towels are not designed to break down in wastewater,” U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials wrote in a tweet. “Protect pipes from sewer backups and costly repair by ONLY flushing your waste and toilet paper.”

The New York Times reported that plumbers and public officials alike have pleaded with Americans, asking them to be aware of everyone’s pipes going forward.

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