California sewer systems are reportedly seeing extreme blockages due to homemade toilet paper alternatives. On Thursday, a Redding, California newspaper reported that a "critical sewer spill" was narrowly avoided, caused by shredded t-shirts in the system. Other areas in the state are having similar problems.
Toilet paper shortages continue to persist in parts of the country, where panic-buying emptied store shelves in recent weeks. As a replacement, many DIY websites recommend using cut-up t-shirts or other household rags instead. However, these items cannot be flushed down the toilet — a critical fact that many Californians are missing.
Wastewater management officials told the Redding Record Searchlight on Thursday that the city's sewer lines had been severely backed up the night before. Workers were forced to take quick action to avoid a dangerous spill, as the lines were blocked all the way to a loca lift station.
"The pumps were clogged by what appeared to be shredded T-shirts that were used in place of toilet paper," the city said.
The local crew fished the cut-up t-shirts out of the sewer line and then worked to get the waste moving again.
Now, local officials are scrambling to get out the message that cloth rags, paper towels and other toilet paper alternatives cannot be flushed down toilets. Instead, they are asking people to securely bag these items and throw them away in the trash.
"Anything and everything is flushable, but it doesn't mean that it's OK to put it down the toilet," one wastewater crew member said.
In extreme cases, experts said that sewer backups can cause fecal matter to back up into showers, toilets and sinks, creating an unsanitary and unsafe environment in the home. On a larger scale, a sewer spill can have catastrophic ramifications for a community and the nearby environment if not checked in time.
"Wastewater Management was able to avert a spill but is concerned about the larger environmental and health ramifications presented by this backup," the city said. "Anything aside from toilet paper works to create a sewer backup, putting our larger sewer system, our water system and our community at risk for another health crisis."
This is just one more result of the coronavirus pandemic now sweeping the United States. Retail experts say that there is no problem with the supply line, and shortages of products like toilet paper should be worked out once stores are able to restock.
For the latest on the COVID-19 outbreak, visit the CDC's website.