You Paid For It: Sewage divers clearing out wipes

What would you charge to take the dive?
Updated: Jun. 20, 2019 at 5:58 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Would you answer this call for duty?

Hundreds of pounds of solid waste, mostly wipes, is clogging up parts of the Charleston Water System.

This week specialized divers were hired to dig deep to clear out the pumps.

It’s the second time in less than a year CWS has had to contract out removal of a massive collection of wipes clogging intake pumps.

Every day, CWS staff rakes out items that should not have been flushed in the first place. They include dental floss, hygiene products, potato chip bags, needles and even cash!

The diver has to first dig through 3 feet of solid sludge. He or she then dives down with zero visibility to feel for any obstructions that need to be removed.

The price of the October job was $142,893.09.

In that case, they removed a 12-foot long mass of wipes weighing hundreds of pounds at Plum Island Wastewater treatment plant.

That price included 3 dives to remove wipes and blockages and several more dives to clean out the wet wall, which is 15 stories tall.

The clean-out usually takes a few days and requires a lot of heavy machinery on site.

CWS is still waiting on a final cost of this week’s unclogging mission. They tell us it took five dives this time to remove a continuous slab of wipes.

These costs are passed along to ratepayers. While it may not end up being much per person, if these items back up at your home, plumbers say the clog will be very costly to fix.

“Easy rule of thumb is if it doesn’t come out of you- and it doesn’t come off the roll of toilet paper, don’t put it in your toilet,” said Adam Flarherty with Preferred Home Services.

Mike Saia, the communications manager at CWS, said despite some being labeled as “flushable,” they are pleading with customers not to flush anything except toilet paper and human waste.

He explained that wipes are made to attract grease, which stops them from breaking down and makes them bind together into huge masses, or “fatburgs.”

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