Not flushed with success

I have to wince in sympathy with New York City’s sanitation workers.  The New York Times reports:

In recent years, the intersection of evolving hygienic sensibilities and aggressive industry marketing has fueled the product’s rise. Wet wipes, long used for baby care, have grown popular with adults.

Some of the products are branded as “flushable” — a characterization contested by wastewater officials and plaintiffs bringing class-action lawsuits against wipes manufacturers for upending their plumbing.

Often, the wipes combine with other materials, like congealed grease, to create a sort of superknot.

. . .

The city has spent more than $18 million in the past five years on wipe-related equipment problems, officials said. The volume of materials extracted from screening machines at the city’s wastewater treatment plants has more than doubled since 2008, an increase attributed largely to the wipes.

Removal is an unpleasant task. The dank clusters, graying and impenetrable, gain mass like demon snowballs as they travel. Pumps clog. Gears falter. Then, there is the final blow, wrought by an intake of sewage that overwhelmed a portion of a north Brooklyn treatment plant.

“Odor control,” a sign there reads. But on a recent afternoon, the second word had disappeared behind a wayward splotch: It was a used wipe, etched with a heavenly cloud design.

. . .

The consummate cautionary tale is that of London, where in 2013 a collection of wipes, congealed cooking oil and other materials totaled 15 tons, according to Thames Water, the utility company that removed it. It was known, like some previous occurrences, as the fatberg. “We reckon it has to be the biggest such berg in British history,” Gordon Hailwood, an official with Thames Water, said at the time.

There’s more at the link.  Here’s a video of London’s ‘fatberg’.

When one considers that most of us have that sort of disgusting goo not far beneath our feet in the cities where we live, it gives one a new appreciation for sanitation workers.



  1. The miracle is not that the necessities of modern life work so smoothly – it's that they work at all.

  2. Maybe not so modern. It seems that multiple-story flush toilets were common in Pompeii. So common, that they have now found them in workshops, not just rich homes.

  3. Funny how few of the feminists – perennial proclaiming that the empowerment of womyns requires access to every job done by men – put their hands up for this kind of work.

  4. If all levels of government would focus just a little more on keeping this kind of vital infrastructure working and a little less on what I choose to ingest I would be a great deal happier. i lived for a while in DC, and every summer the worm drains stank. This was, in part, because the storm drain, sewer, and water main system predated the Civil War in places, and the DC government was always too caught up in its latest fads and toys to update it.

    Governments LOOOOOOVE to start new editing projects, but hate to pay for upkeep.

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