Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

What the flush? The culprits clogging King County sewers

Seattle Times

Seattle Times

A Stormtrooper action figure, a racing Sonic the Hedgehog, Legos and rubber duckies. This isn’t a guide to holiday shopping for your kids – they’re the culprits clogging King County’s sewers.

Staff members at West Point Treatment Plant shared in a Friday blog post their “trophy collection” of the oddities they have found over the years, serving as a PSA to be on alert for careless flushes that can jam up equipment and slow down the treatment process.

“Kids and adults alike are constantly flushing the darndest of objects down their toilet bowls,” the blog says. “Although the figures may appear cute and harmless, appearances are deceiving.”

Each of the about 18 items in collection caused “mischief,” according to the plant and are an “unsettling reminder of all that can go wrong with a misplaced plastic smile, or a toothy grin.”

The first line of defense for the plant is its screening room, where wastewater from homes and businesses enters the plant and is filtered for material of different sizes, according to West Point staff.

Trash is raked up and put on conveyor belts to be dropped into a dump truck and hauled away to landfills.

Staffers are constantly scraping disposable wipes – “the most common headache” – from filter screens. Sometimes, jams can be even more cumbersome. Like the time, operations supervisor Randy Smith said in the post, when a giant commercial fishing net got tangled in trash. It took hours to resolve the mess.

Money is also going down the drain.

“The most gut-wrenching thing to see is money going up the conveyor belt,” said operator-in-training Brain Klakcus. “I once saw a chunk of a $100 bill go up one of the belts. It hurt so bad knowing it was going to a landfill somewhere.”

So what should and shouldn’t be flushed?

Flush toilet paper. Trash the rest. That includes wipes labeled as “flushable,” tissues and hygiene products.

Flushing the wrong items, the county says, is bad for the environment, can result in a hefty plumbing bill and increases costs for wastewater treatment operations and maintenance.