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Photo/city of Jasper Sewage Monster -- A 2,000 gallon sewage spill occurred January 22nd after the Town Creek lift station pumps became clogged with material not intended to be flushed - wipes, rags, plastic bags - shown above.

To flush or not to flush

Only the three P’s should go down a toilet —  poop, pee and (toilet) paper

WARNING – Nauseating sewage discussion ahead. Do not read while eating.

            Assuming it doesn’t get clogged, when most people flush their toilet whatever went down the drain is likely out of sight and out of mind.

            However, that swirling drain is no black hole where everything disappears. Depending on what you flushed, “it may be like a baseball rolling down the line, picking up fats, oils and grease [in sewage lingo FOG] and by the time it gets to the lift station, we have a bowling ball,” said Interim Jasper City Manager Kim Goldener regarding the cause of a 2,000 gallon sewage spill at the city’s Town Creek Lift Station on Mineral Springs Road last week.

            Goldener said ideally only three things should be flushed – pee, poop and (toilet) paper – [the three p’s  in  sewage lingo].

            The problem that led to this sewage overflow, as well as previous ones, is people flush something like a paper towel and as it travels down the relatively small, gravity-fed lines here, it entangles with other objects. At the lift station, it joins a bunch of other clumps and creates the sewage monster pulled from the wet well at the city lift station shown in the photo.

            The prime culprits in the clogged pump at Town Creek were “wipes, rags, plastic bags.”   In general, Goldener pointed the finger at “flushable wipes,” which aren’t really flushable; feminine products, and plain ol’ brown paper towels found in many restrooms – “those things never dissolve” – as the top items creating clogs.

            Goldener explained that wipes marketed as flushable may break down eventually in ideal circumstances but not quickly enough here to avoid clogs. The city conducted their own in-house experiment on the wipes and found only one company’s broke down while many showed no signs of disintegrating.

            Goldener, who comes to Jasper with experience dealing with sewage in other municipalities, theorized that with larger lines and more agitation some of the other wipes would have broken down but with Jasper’s smaller lines, the wipes are making it to lift station pumps mostly intact.

            Aside from what is flushed, drains, particularly those at commercial operations or restaurants, may be a key source of the non-degradable objects, like the plastic bags, getting in the sewage lines.

            A third possible entry point are at empty lots with “stacks” coming out of the ground marking sewage lines installed during construction for future homes. Goldener said people may use these to discard objects. At a previous job she saw cases where people threw garbage directly into manholes, including old tires in one case.

            Goldener said she is definitely not accusing anyone of intentionally dumping objects here.

            The belief is the largest source of the problem is flushed. “We wish that people would be more conscious about toilets and floor drains,” she said.

            Lift stations are designed to start breaking down objects and pushing them towards the main sewage plant on Montview Drive. The majority of the flow in the city’s sewage system goes through two lift stations, both on Mineral Springs Road. The Town Creek station pushes the flow towards a second station called Mineral Springs. That second station picks up some additional gravity fed lines and pushes the whole flow towards the plant, where the city is working on a long-awaited expansion.

            The estimated 2,000 gallons of sanitary sewage on Mineral Springs Road wasn’t large enough to create immediate health concerns, but as Goldener said it isn’t good. It’s not a major health concern but we don’t want any more pollution than necessary, she said. The area has been remediated with lime, and samples are being taken upstream and downstream of the incident for seven days, according to the city’s report. Goldener said the city could face fines if spills keep occurring.

            The city doesn’t have a quote on replacing the pump yet, and is currently operating with a loaned pump. Troubling is that it is an unnecessary expense, as money spent replacing this could have be spent on something else if the offending matter hadn’t gotten into the lines, Goldener said.

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