Used masks, gloves, wipes clog Rensselaer County sewers

New York

This Monday, May 25, 2020 photo shows a discarded glove on a storm drain in Philadelphia. 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 had experienced clogs from face masks, gloves and wipes residents had pitched into the potty, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

TROY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Rensselaer County is experiencing a sharp increase in sewer jams—called fatbergs when they get big enough—because face masks, gloves, and wipes are being flushed into the system.

They clump together and break the system, creating more work for employees, damaging equipment, and wasting resources that no municipality can afford to spare in this economy.

Rensselaer County’s Legislature says it has spent over $80 million on sewer plant and pump station upgrades over the past ten years. Overhauls have included efficient pumps and motors, new generators, and upgraded screening equipment.

New York’s mask mandate has had the unfortunate side effect of masks being left on streets and in parking lots. “They should not be flushed, or tossed into the street, where they might end up in a storm drain, and make their way into our sewer system,” said East Greenbush Legislator Tom Grant.

Improper disposal of these objects sends them to the sewers, where they get caught in filtration equipment. The sewer system is not even built to process “flushable” wipes, so stretchy rubber gloves and elastic face masks are out of the question. These items are not meant to be flushed or discarded anywhere except directly into the garbage.

“Many of those improvements were mandated by New York State, and have helped clean the Hudson River. We need the public’s help to keep masks, gloves, and wipes out of our sewer system,” said Chairman Michael Stammel.

Warning: A graphic slideshow of photos of the debris removed from the waste stream appears below:

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