Newly developed baby wipes meant for tender bottoms are quickly becoming the bane of wasterwater treatment plant operators. “The main problem facing sewer plants is wipes are not made of a material that breaks down easily,” says Mike Marino, who operates the Village of Saugerties plant. “It’s a cloth-based material.”
The product is so durable it can go through the plant’s grinder and not get chewed up. This large mass makes its way into the other pumps, valves and digesters at the plant, where they can get hung up and cause blockages due to their size, Marino says.
Marino and his crew have found a workaround to solve the problem. “What we have done at our entrance channel is to divert the flow into a manual bar screen, which catches most of the solids before getting into the plant systems.”
Another problem was that the plant’s heat exchanger got gunked up. One of the valves needed to close the flow into the exchanger would not shut, Marino said. “Finally we cleared the exchanger, and all is well.”
This was an example of how small problems can become large problems. “In the case of the exchanger problem, I am assuming that the problem was wipes. As I flushed the system, I did notice solids that looked like wipes,” Marino explained.
Companies are now designing new grinder systems that can deal with tearing the wipes apart for processing. But they will come at a cost. For the Saugerties plant, said Marino, “the cost of upgrading will come at a large cost” for new grinder systems.
How to avoid that cost? Plant operators currently divert the inflowing septic into a channel where the solids are collected on a bar screen. Each day, and in many cases several times per day, the solids are manually removed and placed in a sealed bucket and added to the dried-sludge trailer for removal, Marino said. “I find this method, which minimizes the domino effect in other processes in the plant, working satisfactorily and at no added cost to the taxpayer.”