Lanarkist

Mystery solved: White fluff clogging filters in Smiths Falls identified

The Smiths Falls Water Pollution Control Plant has identified the influx of a “fluffy” material that was clogging up the screens. – Laurie Weir photo

Don’t flush those wipes!

It’s been confirmed that a white substance clogging the filters at the water pollution control plant in Smiths Falls is from flushable wipes.

Jason Barlow, manager of water and wastewater for the Town of Smiths Falls, shared the findings from Carleton University, which was tasked with testing the white fluff-like substance that was getting clogged in the filters.

Barlow said, back in March, they were having issues with some type of substance but didn’t know what it was.

During the regular committee of the whole meeting for the Town of Smiths Falls on Monday, April 22, Barlow said they had the fluff tested.

“We were having a large influx of wipes that aren’t breaking down in our system,” Barlow said, as they wanted to verify the substance they were dealing with after his March presentation to council.

“I wanted to verify that it was flushable wipes and not something else in the system,” he said. “We sent a sample of the fluff we were getting from the system as well as our sludge to Carleton University and the lab there, at no cost yet, was able to analyze (it) and they told us that our problem was flushable wipes. They asked if there were any other municipalities having the same issues, and there isn’t.”

Barlow explained that in the Smiths Falls plant, they heat the sludge to create the pellets.

“It’s the heat process that is creating the fluff in our system,” he said. “The lab said it could have been a company that was distributing a different style or different material or product of wipe that is now in the system. It breaks down enough that you can’t see it in the wastewater or the sludge but as soon as we heat it, it creates the fluff, which plugs our screens and our filters and everything in our system.”

Barlow said they are now able to accommodate for what is happening, “but it’s a lot more work. It’s like hours per day of cleaning and that reduces our production time as well.”

If they run into issues and are out for long periods of time, “our sludge costs are already in excess of what our budget was because we are having issues trying to figure out how we’re going to deal with this problem,” Barlow said.

Their call to action is an education campaign to make residents aware of what the issues are when flushing wipes down the toilet.

“They need to go in garbage and not in the toilet,” he said.

During Water Week – May 5-11 — a video will be released each day about the inner workings of the water treatment facility in town. It will appear on the town’s website as well.

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