Not in the toilet, please!
Faced with a $25,000 penalty for dumping inadequately-treated waste water into the environment – twice in 2013 – Gatineau is asking citizens to use more care in what they flush. This penalty (taxpayers will pay, not the offending officials) comes amid other waste escapes this year due to flooding.
As the city deals with the problem, citizens are asked to avoid flushing items which will not readily decompose in water. A continual problem is the need to clean out screens and filters which are clogged up with everything from bones and fat to motor oil and dead pets. In some cases the entire plant has to be shut down, backing up the water purification system.
The city reports commonly finding the following items creating blocks around screens and piping: articles of clothing, sanitary napkins, condoms, hair, small animals (fish, birds, etc), dental floss, cotton swabs, band-aids, cigarette filters, and packaging. Kitchen scraps also: bones, meat, fat, vegetable scraps, containers and plastic bags. Dangerous items such as flammable motor oil, machine grease, paint, medications and cleaning products are also common. “The toilet is not a trash can!” city workers remind citizens.
The city processes over 51 billion litres of waste water per year, the equivalent of 17,000 Olympic pools; this system utilizes 1,800 km of piping, 48 pumping stations and two major purification plants (one quite old). Sewage treatment takes almost $13 million of the city’s annual budget.
One former sewage-plant worker told the Bulletin, “Even simple stuff like dental floss causes big headaches. Think of the mess hair makes in your sink drain, and multiple that by thousands – you get the picture.” This ex-worker (from another jurisdiction) added that some cities are forced to illegally flush out their tanks without proper treatment just to solve or avoid such tangles. “People think that pushing the handle makes it all go away – it just becomes someone else’s problem.”
The Ministry of the Environment asks citizens to also cooperate by reporting “anything that affects the quality of the environment” – spills, leaks, etc – by calling the Ministry’s emergency reporting line, 1-866-694-5454.