Sewer blockages up 20% as people flush toilet paper alternatives during coronavirus lockdown

28 April 2020, 16:20

This grim 40kg bundle had snarled up a temporary pipe in Shoppenhangers Road, Maidenhead
This grim 40kg bundle had snarled up a temporary pipe in Shoppenhangers Road, Maidenhead. Picture: Thames Water

By Megan White

Sewer blockages have risen almost 20 per cent amid the coronavirus lockdown as people flush alternatives to toilet paper down the toilet.

Thames Water has seen an increase of about 10 sewer blockages per day compared to normal.

They said the rise follows shoppers bulk-buying toilet paper, leaving others turning to alternatives such as wet wipes, tissues, kitchen roll and newspapers.

One of the so-called ragbergs - a clump of wet wipes, nappies and sanitary products - weighing 40kg was dragged from a sewer in Maidenhead.

Such items combine with fats, oils and grease when flushed down the toilet - creating fatbergs.

Last month a razor blade was found at Kingsley Square sewage pumping station, near Guildford, wedged in a mass of unflushables
Last month a razor blade was found at Kingsley Square sewage pumping station, near Guildford, wedged in a mass of unflushables. Picture: Thames Water

Stephen Sanderson, area network manager for Thames Water, said: "Wipes and things like kitchen roll if used instead of toilet paper can't go down the loo.

"As nasty as it sounds, if people do use them as a last resort, they need to be put in a bin and disposed of safely."

Thames Water said before the lockdown it was seeing a reduction of about 10 per cent in blockages.

However, it has since seen a jump of up to 8 per cent compared with the average for the same month in 2017 to 2019.

Other unusual items found in sewers and sewage works by Thames Water in recent years include a toy car, a screwdriver and even a shotgun.

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Technicians Andy Dickson and Ian Mazzone said: “We immediately stepped back as the last thing you want to do is cut yourself when you’re handling raw sewage.

“Unfortunately this is something we regularly come across, which we why we always take a good look at blockages before going in with our hands.

“There are all sorts of sharp bits in there, none of which should be going down the toilet.”

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