Flushable wipes causing a stink in some sewers: Is a clog coming to Cook County?

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In cities all over the world, there has been a great debate about the sewers and all eyes are on little white paper sheets that some claim are clogging up the sewers, bursting the pipes and costing taxpayers millions.

Whoever would have thought that tiny little wet wipes could spark such a debate over such a mess.

Round, toxic filled lumps have been growing in sewers across the globe. They are described in some cases as the size of a school bus or a Boeing 747. They can weigh 20 tons and cost tens of millions of dollars to remove. They can be so stubborn and challenging, they have to be cut with a handsaw and removed manually.

The costly lumps of gunk consist of fat, oil, grease and waste from the bustling cities above. The bulk of it, many debate is the common wet wipe.

From your toilet, it travels down your property's pipes, through your town's sewers until it feeds into the treatment plant. Smaller backups can happen along any stretch of that route. But if it a giant blockage were to happen, it would erupt where the sewers feed into the plant.

"With reference to this plant and my colleagues we really have not seen any issues,” said Reed Dring, operations manager at the Stickney Water Reclamation Plant.

Dring says he runs the largest waste water plant on earth. It serves over 2 million people in Cook County and treats over 700 million gallons of waste water a day.

Dring says, “Yes, we've seen wet wipes coming through, but nothing that would cause us any operational issues."

You'll see them come through, all right. They lay on the garbage bins, get caught on conveyor belts, hang from the metal screening machines, but Dring says they do not build up here in Cook County sewers like they have in other cities.

While he doesn't know why Chicago seems to be doing things right, Dring says there are a lot of variables to consider: Temperature of the sewers, velocity of the waste water, size of the tunnels and yes, what people are likely to do at the loo.

Dring goes on to say it is likely the good habits of cook county citizens coupled with the ginormous size of our tunnels that help keep our waste moving.

In Cook County, the biggest problem, in the sewers are leave. Fall is peak season for problems at the sewage plant-especially after a big rain.

Cottonelle, a leading seller of flushable wet wipes, maintains their product is safe for the sewers. Test after test, parent company Kimberly Clark says the almost entirely organic wipes do break down as they should. The company claims 90% of items found in sewage pump station screens are not meant to be flushed. So they say flushable wipes are not to blame.

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