A flushable wipe ‘fatburg’. Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen photo.

B.C. municipalities fear ‘fatberg’ build-ups during COVID-19 pandemic

As residents ramp up their efforts to stay clean amid COVID-19, B.C. municipalities have warned that flushing antiseptic or disposable wipes down the toilet could create an additional problem.

In a recent press release, the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen, reminded the public that flushing paper towels, wipes and hygiene related products contribute to significant sewage blockages—otherwise known as “fatbergs.”

“In this challenging time when we are spending more time at home as we do our part, we must be conscious that our homes have to function,” said Rina Seppen, the district’s Wastewater Utilities Foreman. “The last thing we need is to have the sewer lines clog and essential services stretched as we work to serve the public needs.”

Fatbergs can grow into monster sizes. One found in the sewers of a UK town last year amounted to 64 metres long – equivalent to about six double decker buses. It contained hardened grease, oil and wet-wipes.

At the time, the local water services company estimated that it would take crews weeks to remove.

In Kelowna, the city has noted a recent increase in pipe clogging wipes. Ed Hoppe, the city’s water quality and customer care supervisor told CBC News that the wipes’ antibacterial properties can also kill off essential bacteria used to break down organic material in waste water.

“The disinfectants have the ability to interfere with our treatment capability,” Hoppe said. “The only thing that we really recommended that people flush down the toilet is toilet paper itself.”