How flushing goldfish, other items could lead to sewer system problems

Hampden County

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – It’s a common occurrence: a goldfish dies, and it is flushed down the toilet.

(Photo: Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper/WIVB)

However, a viral photo shows the damaging effects of flushing fish, dead or alive. The photo shows a 14-inch goldfish that was found in the Niagara River in New York downstream of a wastewater treatment plant.

Original Story: Do not flush your fish: Viral photo of giant goldfish resurfaces as a reminder

The Buffalo Niagara Waterkeep said scientists have estimated that tens of thousands of goldfish are living in the Great Lakes across America. Goldfish can destroy the habitats of native fish and survive all year in a watershed. However, goldfish aren’t the only problematic things being flushed down toilets.

22News visited the Suez Waste Water Plant in Agawam on Thursday where waste water is separated from other products flushed down the toilet in what’s called a “rack room.” 

But “rack room” machines have trouble separating any item that isn’t toilet paper. Paper towels, feminine products, cotton balls, dental floss, and diapers are just some items that can cause problems at sewer systems and sewage plants. 

One of the most common misconceptions is that “flushable wipes” are safe to flush. The Springfield Water and Sewer Commission told 22News that’s not the case. 

“Those don’t dissolve. It’s a fibrous material that doesn’t break down the way toilet paper does, so we’ve had to do a lot more cleaning of clogs due to wipes,” said Jaimye Bartak, communications manager.

The Water and Sewer Commission explained that fats, oils, and grease are the leading cause of sewer backups into basements. When items containing fat, oil, or grease are washed down the sink or toilet, it coats and sticks to the inside of sewer pipes.

The department said residents should never pour grease down sink drains or toilets, instead, grease should be dumped into a waxed food container and thrown in the trash.

Other commonly flushed items that can cause clogs and backups are:

  • Disposable wipes
  • Paper towels
  • Feminine products
  • Cotton balls
  • Dental floss
  • Diapers

“Flushable,” according to the department, is not the same as disposable.

Disposable wipes commonly flushed down toilets do not dissolve and instead accumulate in the sewer causing backups and clogs. The only things that should be flushed are toilet paper and human waste.

Not only are clean up and repairs to the sewer system expensive and unhealthy, but they also increase the department’s operation and can result in higher sewer bills for people in the town or city you live in.

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