Wet wipes linked to sewer surcharge at Black Head

Published on 30 June 2022

No wet wipes in toilet.jpg

MidCoast Council is once again urging community members to be mindful of what they put down the toilet, as household wet wipes continue to cause problems in the sewerage system.

This follows a recent sewer surcharge at Black Head that resulted in sewage seeping into a section of the Black Head Lagoon.

While the waterway has since been deemed safe for swimming in accordance with NSW Health guidelines, Council’s Director of Infrastructure and Engineering Services, Rob Scott, said the incident reinforced the importance of not putting anything down the drain or toilet that didn’t belong there.

“An investigation into the cause of the sewer surcharge at Black Head showed that a relatively small section of tree roots penetrated the sewer manhole and quickly blocked the main due to a build-up of wet wipes,” said Mr Scott.

“This isn’t just a problem at Black Head, it’s an issue we’re experiencing right across the network. Almost daily our operational staff are having to go out and clear sewer pump stations that have been blocked by wipes.”

Mr Scott said dealing with these blockages was not only unpleasant for the employees who had to manually remove them, it impacted on the local environment and was costly for Council and the community.

“Every year we’re spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on this issue,” he said.

“Whenever our staff members have to go out and clear wet wipes from the sewer system, it takes them away from their scheduled duties. The wipes can also damage our pumps, which means they have to be replaced a lot sooner than would’ve been required. All these costs have to be accounted for and ultimately they get passed on to our customers.”

While many manufacturers label their wipes as ‘flushable’, the reality is no wet wipes break down in the sewer system.

A new flushable products standard has recently been introduced in Australia and New Zealand to help provide clarity to consumers about what can and can’t be flushed down the toilet. Symbols showing whether a product is flushable or not will soon start appearing on product packaging.

Until then, Mr Scott said it was best to follow the time-tested three Ps rule.

“Pee, poo and toilet paper are the only things that should be flushed down your toilet.

“Anything else can block up your internal plumbing, which will most likely result in you having to call a plumber, or choke up our sewer pumps, which is even worse given the environmental impact it can have.”

To find out more about what can and can’t go down your toilets and drains, visit www.midcoast.nsw.gov.au/wipesstoppipes