Sewer debris poses hazard to crews

2013-10-20T14:00:00Z Sewer debris poses hazard to crewsHeather Augustyn Times Correspondent nwitimes.com
October 20, 2013 2:00 pm  • 

PORTER | When public work crews in Porter hear of a clog, they put on the equipment, get into the trenches, and do the job -- even if it means being exposed to hazardous germs or being stuck by a hypodermic needle.

More and more, sewer clogs require crews to place their health and life in harm’s way. One public works director is asking for the community’s help.

“Everybody is now coming out with these Swiffers and mop heads and wiping materials and the claim is that these things are biodegradable, so when they see that, they flush it," said Brenda Brueckheimer, public works director for the town of Porter. "In the last three years, it has gotten really worse.”

“We are out there every day at 16 lift stations and 38 pumps and we pull an average of four to six pumps every day to remove debris — mop heads, diapers, hygiene items, syringes, and the amount of overtime this costs, coming out at 9 p.m. at night so there isn’t an overflow, is high.”

Not only is the overtime costly but the work is dangerous.

“Unfortunately, it’s a situation where no matter what kind of protection we use, when we pull a syringe out of a pump, it will prick you and it is scary," Brueckheimer said.

She said she's tracked down homes where she thought the items came from, and said diabetics or seniors simply flush the items.

"And the same little syringes the diabetics use are the same ones the drug users use, so I have my staff using the heaviest kinds of gloves they can buy and face shields,” Brueckheimer said.

The amount of debris Porter is pulling from clogged pumps is staggering, an average of 50 to 60 pounds of solid debris daily. Brueckheimer said on one recent day, six syringes were among it.

Terry Atherton, utility superintendent for Chesterton said they too have seen an increase in debris but not nearly as much as Porter.

In Chesterton, Atherton said, the chronic problems are Swiffer pads and Clorox wipes.

"We want to get people to try to stop using the toilet as a waste basket and it’s still a problem. The box said flushable but they don’t digest,” Atherton said.

Wes Simon, field director for the field division of the Portage Utility Board said, one lift station tends to be the source of the worst problems.

"We pull rags, heavy duty wipes, syringes, even children’s and adult’s underwear and socks. I don’t know how they get it through their own plumbing.”

The solution in Portage ended up coming out of the utility budget -- cutter pipes for $7,000 that helped the problem, Simon said.

Brueckheimer encourages residents to use the trash bin, recycling bin or receptacles at the public works station.

“We have recycling days for oils and medicines but people just flush it because they want it out of mind. Around Thanksgiving, we have a lot of grease because people deep fry their turkeys. Bring your syringes in to the box we have at the department. Sewer bills will keep going up if we don’t find a way to stop this,” she said.

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