CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Grease and wet wipes. It's the stuff "fatbergs" are made of.
Charleston's sewer lines may not house anomalies such as London's 15-ton mass of fat found in the city's drains last spring, but workers at the Charleston Sanitary Board frequently encounter their own versions, said Operations Manager Tim Haapala.
Wet wipes, thought to be flushable, cause real problems for municipal sewer pipelines. These wipes, when paired with grease that gets into drains, can create masses in the city's pipelines that can be costly to remove, Haapala said.
Any number of items can cause blockages, but the wipes are one of the biggest culprits for back ups, Haapala said.
"They're not degradable. That's the problem," Haapala said.
These wipes can't be pushed down sewerage lines, especially by newer toilets, which only provide about a 3-gallon flush. Older toilets, Haapala said, were 5-gallon flushes. Old pipelines made of clay don't help the situation.
"When you put those types of things down the drain in an old line and don't put the volume of water behind it to flush it, you're not flushing it," Haapala said. "It's just staying behind."
Wipes will sit in sewer lines and catch the grease that's passing by.
"That grease mixes with the towels, the wipes and then congeals," Haapala said. "It slowly builds ... like cholesterol in a vein."
Of the 300 miles of pipeline maintained by the board, blockage issues tend to be worse on the West Side, East End and in Kanawha City, said Larry Roller, sanitary board general manager.