Mayor Jim Kenney kicked off a recent briefing on Philadelphia's coronavirus response with an unusual request for residents: Be careful what you flush. Between mid-March, when the city’s stay-at-home order was issued, and the end of April, most of the 19 sewer and storm water pumping stations in Philadelphia experienced clogs from face masks, gloves, and wipes residents had pitched into the potty, Kenney said. "Please do not flush any of these items down the toilet," the mayor said. Officials in other US cities and rural communities—and the Environmental Protection Agency—have issued similar pleas as wastewater plant operators report a surge of stopped-up pipes and damage to equipment, the AP reports.
The problem has sharpened the longstanding clash over whether wipes are suitable for flushing. While drain clogs aren't new, most of the more than 15 cities contacted by the AP said they've become a more costly and time consuming headache during the pandemic. "When everyone rushed out to get toilet paper and there was none ... people were using whatever they could," said Pamela Mooring, spokeswoman for DC Water, the system in the nation's capital. In Houston, officials say sanitary sewer overflows jumped 33% between February and March in Houston because of clogs from rags, tissues, paper towels, and wipes. (A city in California says someone nearly caused a spill by flushing cut-up T-shirts.)