A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

Sorry, but this is about … ahem … flushing

Written March 22nd, 2020 by Hasso Hering

Outside the sewage treatment plant on Sunday afternoon.

The stores call it bath tissue. Most people call it toilet paper. By either name, it’s been hard to get because of panic buying and hoarding. What about the effect, if any, on the Albany sewer system and treatment plant as people resort to other means?

A week ago I checked with Kristin Preston, the utility superintendent in Albany Public Works who is in charge of the wastewater system. She didn’t report any particular new problems so far. But evidently the flushing of stuff other than TP has been an issue in the wastewater industry for years.

Here’s her detailed response:

“People should only be flushing toilet paper, as it breaks down most easily. If using a thicker material like paper towels, the first concern may be the clogging of a homeowner’s house plumbing or private sewer lateral, which would not be good. Other materials that don’t readily break down, like personal hygiene or baby wipes, can also clog and do more damage the sewer system pumps and equipment. However, this has been an issue especially since the rise in the use of “flushable” wipes, which aren’t really flushable.

“In recent years during equipment upgrades, we’ve installed different style pumps to better address the issue and reduce equipment downtime. We also have remote sensors that let our staff know of any pump issues and we can respond to clear them. And we do have redundant systems to address equipment downtime. While major damage from a slight increase in other material usage is not likely, it could mean more homeowner plumbing calls, callouts to our staff to clear a clog, or potentially a damaged pump.”

The city became concerned about this long before now, posting a list of “what not to flush” on the Albany city website here.

As for all those shoppers seen leaving Albany stores in recent weeks with big packs of paper towels, let’s hope they didn’t buy those only because packs of TP were all gone. (hh)

2 responses to “Sorry, but this is about … ahem … flushing”

  1. Jim Engel says:

    Weelll, we could use the Muslim method of the left hand to cleanse in lieu of paper. That’s why it’s such an insult to eat from a dish with your left hand. But then in those areas they don’t have such a great sewer system as we have in the US of A.

  2. J. Jacobson says:

    Despite the human conceit that technology conquers all, in the end we ought all pray to whatever gods you worship that Sewage Treatment Plant workers and the Water Works workers remain healthy.


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