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North Iowa officials encourage residents to think before they flush
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North Iowa officials encourage residents to think before they flush

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COVID-19 shopping 1 toilet paper

Toilet paper shelves sit empty in a paper-goods aisle at Walmart in Mason City in mid-March. In the wake of the spread of COVID-19, many Americans stocked up on non-perishable food items, consumable goods, and cleaning and disinfecting products.

Toilet paper has been sparse on store shelves throughout North Iowa in recent weeks as consumers have depleted supplies in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But for those who plan on using paper towels, wipes, washcloths or other items to take care of business instead, sanitary officials urge them to think before they flush.

“Being self-quarantined at home can be tough. Being self-quarantined at home with a backed-up sewer is much, much worse,” said Mitch Hanson, Clear Lake Sanitary District superintendent.

The cities of Clear Lake and Mason City posted a reminder on their social media pages last week informing residents what items shouldn’t be flushed.

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According to their posts, the following items are not flushable and should be disposed of in the trash:

• Hand wipes

• Disinfecting wipes

• Baby wipes

• Paper towels

• Napkins

• Feminine hygiene products

• Dryer sheets

• Cloth items

Flushing such items — even those deemed “flushable” — can clog local sewer systems, resulting in costly problems for homes, businesses and communities, officials say.

If there’s a clog in a sewer line, pumps stop working and sewer system backups occur.

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“Even when packaging says, ‘Flushable,’ it still takes a while to dissolve in the system and could plug the sanitary lines should a buildup occur,” said Paul Vanous, Mason City Water Reclamation operations supervisor. “There have been municipalities throughout the state that have had clogging issues, so yes, it does happen.”

Mason City hasn’t had any issues with plugging in the sanitary collection system or at the Water Reclamation facility, Vanous said on Wednesday.

He said the city of Mason City posted the reminder on Facebook in hopes of avoiding future issues.

Clear Lake Public Works Director Joe Weigel said a pump at the North Shore Drive lift station was pulled after it failed because it was plugged with paper towels.

“We were lucky we caught it before sewage backed up into homes,” he said.

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Hanson said the Clear Lake Sanitary District has not had any clogged pipes or pumps due to the flushing of non-flushable items, but he has seen an increase of such items in its pre-treatment head that screens out rags and other large items before it enters the treatment system.

The only things that should be flushed down the toilet are human waste and toilet paper, he said.

Reach Reporter Ashley Stewart at 641-421-0533. Follow her on Twitter at GGastewart.

"Being self-quarantined at home can be tough. Being self-quarantined at home with a backed-up sewer is much, much worse."

Mitch Hanson, Clear Lake Sanitary District superintendent

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