In what are already challenging times, water firms are now facing a new challenge- an increase in sewage blockages during the lockdown. Panic buying led to unavailability of toilet paper in many areas, due to which people have been using kitchen rolls, wipes and even newspapers. Flushing these down the toilet has been clogging up pipes and leading to increased blockages.
At Shoppenhangers Road, Maidenhead, the Thames Water staff removed a 40kg blockage ‘ragberg’ This blockage consisted of nappies, wet wipes, cotton buds and sanitary products. The water company has issued a warning that the instances of such blockages, also called as fatbergs, has increased during the Covid-19 pandemic. This was discovered as Thames Water employees were repairing a collapse in a section of the sewer on the road.
This, unfortunately, is not the only incident. In 2019, a fatberg weighing 40 ton, as big a double-decker bus in size, was found. Before the lockdown, there had been a decrease of around 10% in such blockages. However, after the lockdown was imposed, there has been an 8% jump in blockages as compared to the same months’ average from 2017-2019.
As the Coronavirus situation became more serious, bulk buying of toilet rolls increased in all areas. This made people use alternatives like kitchen rolls and wipes. As per a Thames Network area network manager, Stephen Sanderson, things like wipes and kitchen rolls when used in place of toilet paper cannot be thrown down the loo.
Everyone has been using wipes even more and following the hygiene recommendations. However, Stephen states that people must remember that only the 3Ps must be flushed in the loo- pee, poo and toilet paper. Before the coronavirus pandemic, such un-flushable items resulted in 75,000 blockages annually. The cost of clearing those came to around £18 million.
Employees of Thames Water have been classified among key workers in this lockdown. They are deployed to regularly clear such blockages to ensure that the waste systems are working without any snags. Engineers on the scenes have been clearing blockages like those at least once each week. Every cleanup takes at least 2 hours. To remove large blockages, engineers have to combine the use of high-power water jets along with the removal of debris manually.
Staff from Thomas Water that is not able to work from home continues to work on fixing leaks, civil engineering tasks and resilience schemes. They are also working to maintain the water treatment works, reservoirs and the sewage sites. All non-essential tasks like taking meter readings have been paused.
However- it is not just rag and tissue rolls that engineers are finding in the sewage pipes. Over the years, several unusual things have found their way into the sewers. Last month at Kingsley Square, a razor blade between a mass of other un-flushable items was also found. Thames Water has reported finding several unusual items inside sewers, including a screwdriver, toy cars and shotguns.
Thames Water has launched this campaign to decrease these incidents and save a part of the £18 million spent on clearing out blockages. As part of the campaign, it has been producing radio advertisements to remind customers of being careful about what they flush down the loo. If people do end up using kitchen rolls and other items as a last resort, they must be careful about not flushing them down the loo.
These items must be thrown in the bin and disposed of separately. Thames Water staff has been deployed during the pandemic only for essential activities, and the increased blockages are starting to take up a significant portion of their valuable time. People must start using separate bathroom bin and liners to safely dispose-off items that cannot be flushed. As toilet paper availability increases with time, Thames Water hopes people are more careful about what they flush down the loo.