Plea to think before you flush

KAROLINE TUCKEY
Last updated 10:31 29/01/2013
HUTsewerweb.jpg
KAROLINE TUCKEY

Scooped goop: Hutt Valley Water Services maintenance fitter Murray Gilmer holds a wad of unflushable items fished out of a pump at the Ava Pump Station.

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Hutt Valley's sewage workers are fighting a losing battle against items many householders wrongly believe are flushable.

Hutt Valley Water Services general manager Louis du Preez says workers pull enough items from each of the city's 42 sewage pumps every month to fill a large rubbish bin..

Among items causing problems are nappy liners, wet wipes, rags, sanitary items and paper towels, which contain strengthening agents so they do not degrade to pulp as easily as toilet paper.

"There are quite a few brands of nappy liners that on the packaging actually says it's flushable, when actually it's not."

"So people see that and think it's good . . . and the thicker they are - it's nicer to use, and more effective - but if you flush it, it becomes a challenge."

The sewage pumps throughout the valley send sewage from the neighbourhood network to the water treatment plant in Seaview.

Workers spend hours each week unbolting and opening the pumping equipment to remove armfuls of unflushable waste items.

Then they have to haul the goopy masses up two stories to ground level in buckets before they are disposed of at the landfill.

It is not the nicest job, Mr du Preez says, but if it is not done regularly the pumps would become blocked and sewage could back up at the pump station, or even into buildings.

"It's a drain on resources in the sense that the guys spend time fishing wet wipes and nappy liners out of the pumps.

"It makes it more difficult for us, and if people do a few small things [to change their patterns] then the guys could spend that time on more scheduled or preventative maintenance," Mr du Preez says.

He estimates unblocking the buildup of unflushable items costs up to $40,000 a year.

It is possible to install grinders in pumps to degrade the items enough so they can pass through the system, Mr du Preez says . . . "but it's a very expensive undertaking".

One idea that has been put forward to increase awareness of the problem involves asking retailers or manufacturers to adopt stickers or signs on or near displays for problem products.

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