Divers journey 80 feet into sewage tank to fish out clumps of pump-clogging wipes

ByDanny Clemens WLS logo
Wednesday, October 17, 2018
Divers journey 80 feet into sewage tank to fish out clumps of pump-clogging wipes
Charleston Water had to send divers 80 feet into a dark sewage tank to fish around for a massive clump of wipes that had clogged several pumps in the city's wastewater treatment plant.

CHARLESTON, SC -- Before you flush a wipe down the toilet, think twice and consider the divers who might have to swim through 80 feet of sewage to pull it out in the future.

That's the message from Charleston Water System, who recently had to send a specialized team of divers deep into a wet well to unclog a series of pumps backed up by a huge jumble of flushed wet wipes.

The clog was discovered last Thursday at the utility's Plum Island Wastewater Treatment Plant. Workers then set up a series of bypass pumps so they could access the obstructed pumps without interrupting the city's flow of wastewater.

With bypass pumps in place, contracted divers from Salmons Marine Contractors in Charleston were sent into the wet well. According to Charleston Water, the divers had to make their way through 80 feet of sewage (with no visibility) and find the source of the obstruction with just their hands.

It took the divers several trips to fully extract the massive clumps of sewage-soaked wipes and clear the pumps. The entire operation took days of around-the-clock work, according to the utility, but everything was flowing freely again by Tuesday, Oct. 16.

(For those wondering, the divers were hosed in bleach as soon as they emerged from the sewage well.)

Wipes weren't the only things the divers managed to find; a baseball and a large piece of metal also had found their way into the sewage system, as well as "many other non-flushables," according to a Charleston Water tweet.

If you ask Charleston Water, only three things are truly flushable: "#1, #2 and toilet paper."

Though some manufacturers are very clear about the fact that their products aren't flushable, others have introduced flush-friendly or septic-safe products in recent years. A 2013 Consumer Reports investigation, however, cast doubt on just how well some of those products break down, with CR ultimately recommending that consumers toss wipes (even those billed as flushable) into the trash can.

This week's unclogging saga wasn't the first time that Charleston Water had to undertake this kind of cleanup effort, according to communications manager Mike Saia. As recently as four years ago, the company had to do the exact same kind of cleanup to clear a massive collection of wipes.