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What's in Your Sewer?

Posted By Karen E. Menard, Wednesday, November 2, 2016

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Education Division – Consumer Outreach Committee Blog

 

All Things H2O                             November 2016 Issue

 

 

 What’s in Your Sewer?

 

 

Modern Sewage: Poop, Pee and Personal Care Products

In February 2016, Dallas Water Utilities (DWU) launched a new wastewater education and outreach campaign called Defend Your Drains (DYD).  DYD is an umbrella campaign that reminds our residents that drains and toilets are not trash cans.  DWU is already well known for its grease abatement program, Cease the Grease (CtG).  CtG began in 2005 and is now shared all over North Texas.  CtG has been a very successful outreach and education program that has significantly reduced grease-related sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs) in Dallas.

 

Number of Grease-Related SSOs

FY 13-14

1

FY 14-15

1

FY 15-16

1

 

If CtG is so successful, why implement DYD? 

 

It’s all About that Waste, ‘bout that Waste

According to the US Census Bureau, the population of Dallas increased 8.5% from April 2010 to July 2015.  The current population of Dallas is 1,300,092.  In FY 15-16, DWU provided 135 billion gallons of treated water.  The DWU Long Range Water Supply Plan (LRWSP) projects water demand by the City of Dallas and its customers to grow from 469 Million Gallons per Day (MGD) in 2020 to 718 MGD in 2070.

The United States Geological Survey estimates that the average person uses 80-100 gallons of water per day inside their home.  The largest use of indoor water is the toilet.  We all know what toilets are meant to flush and utilities are prepared for that.  But why are we concerned about toilets? 

Duke University Center for Sustainability and Commerce states that the average person generates 4.3 pounds of waste per day.  I’m pretty sure they don’t mean THAT kind of waste.  Approximately 55% of that waste ends up in a landfill.  Where does the rest go?  We all know that some of the waste enters the sanitary sewer. About 40-50% of the clean water pumped returns to DWU as wastewater. Wastewater should only contain the 3Ps: pee, poop and toilet paper.  However, it contains many other things like personal care products, household chemicals, rags, grit and grease. 

Pooper Trooper

The Texas Department of Health recorded 39,791 births in Dallas County in 2014.  Parkland Hospital delivered 10,180 of those babies in FY 2015-2016.  Each of these bundles of joy requires a LOT of diaper changes. I am not just saying that.  New Kids-Center has a chart.

Have you ever wondered how many baby wipes are used? Let’s find out.

The mothers I surveyed use 1-4 baby wipes per changing.  Let’s say the average is 2 wipes.

2 wipes X 240 changes/month = 480 wipes per month

480 wipes x 12 months = 5760 wipes/year

Let’s say 1/8 of the wipes are flushed: 5760 x 0.125 = 720 wipes flushed per year

720 wipes x 10,180 babies born at Parkland last year = 7,329,600 wipes possibly flushed in one year

I don’t have children but I do use wipes.  I sometimes use wipes after yard work, after a workout or to clean up messes.  New York Magazine reported that wet wipe consumption has tripled in the past decade.  Wipes are touted to clean almost anything from stainless steel appliances to your bum.  Even Mark Cuban recently invested in men’s adult wipes called Dude Wipes®.  The number above could be even higher since it does not factor in adult wipes or cleaning wipes. 

Remember to Floss

Not everyone uses wipes but everyone should floss. The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends using 18 inches of floss each time you do floss.  They also recommend you floss twice a day.  What does 18 inches of floss look like to a utility?

Let’s say you floss once a day for a year.

18 inches x 365 = 6570 inches of floss/year

6570 inches / 12 inches = 548 feet of floss/year. 

The Washington Monument is 555 feet tall.

There was an ADA study that found that 4 in 10 adults floss once a day. 

40% of 1.3 million = 520,000 people floss but not all of them flush the floss.  For easy math, let’s say 10,000 people in Dallas flush floss.

548 feet of floss x 10,000 people = 5,480,000 feet of floss per year.  Most of us probably know how strong floss is because we wrap it too tightly around our fingers and lose feeling in them.  Try soaking floss in water overnight and see if it loses any strength.  Now we have 5.5 million feet of floss that can tangle with 7.3 million wipes in DWU sewer pipes.

Modern Medicine

The US Census Bureau states that Baby Boomers comprise 75.4 million of the US population.  At least 8.8% of the population in Dallas is 65 years or older according to the 2010 Census. Assisted Living Today has a detailed infographic that illustrates the health concerns of Baby Boomers.  The graphic shows that the average man at age 50 takes 4 daily prescriptions.  Pharmaceuticals are a huge concern to water quality and wastewater treatment.  There are numerous studies about medications in our waters and how they impact aquatic life.  If 5.5 million feet of floss is not a problem for your utility, then flushed pharmaceuticals are because we are all downstream of some other city.