Much has been written about the nation's aging infrastructure and what our elected officials should be doing, but the solution to one problem lies squarely with the consumer.
According to the Associated Press, wastewater treatment departments nationwide are imploring citizens to be more careful what they flush into the sewer system, especially premoistened wipes that are misleadingly advertised as "flushable."
Unlike toilet paper, most brands of wipes do not readily break down. Wipes and other pollutants can become tangled and weave around equipment, causing extensive damage, sewage overflows and costly maintenance expenditures for taxpayers.
If wastewater experts are united in protesting the products, one might well ask what sort of rocket scientists approved them for flushing. ("To our credit, the wipes did biodegrade marginally better than the crash test dummies that we flushed…")
To be fair, it's probably not the Research & Development people who are responsible for the deception. It's really the marketing department, goaded by upper management. Although industry reforms for standards and packaging are in the offing, some CEOs can still be pretty defensive. ("Mother Nature isn't required to stamp 'Do Not Flush' on all those baby alligators, so I don't see why…")
Yes, technically, the wipes are flushable (as are MANY household items); but since they don't decompose readily, that's a rather irresponsible selling point. Is anyone else reminded of the "Saturday Night Live" skits with Dan Aykroyd as sleazy toymaker Irwin Mainway, shamelessly hawking his "Invisible Pedestrian" Halloween costumes and "Bag o' Broken Glass" playthings and ignoring the inevitable consequences of his "harmless" wares? What products will the "flushable wipes" entrepreneurs try to market next? Maybe Kickable Wildcats, Match-Ready Oily Rags, Non-Skid Rickety Ladders, Swallowable Razor Blades…
Okay, although it's the flushable wipes that are getting all the notoriety, they are just the tip of the iceberg. According to the Portland, Maine, water district, only eight percent of their troublesome junk is flushable wipes. The vast majority of the offending pollutants are other items that mentally competent adults should KNOW better than to flush – items such as cleaning rags, reinforced paper towels, medical bandages, cat litter, dental floss, condoms and feminine hygiene products.
Yes, women who can memorize the mantra "A moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips" can conversely adopt the short-sighted worldview "Once it has done its job, it's somebody else's prob." Male hygiene products get a pass because the primary one -- economy-size two-gallon jugs of awful aftershave lotion ("Yep, I'm good to go") -- do not readily fit into the sewer system.
True, not every sewer worker is as lovable as Ed Norton on TV's "The Honeymooners," but that's scant reason to be so thoughtless and gross. It's part of the melding of selfishness and obliviousness that also has us mistreating public employees by speeding through tree-trimming zones, littering with abandon and tying up 911 dispatchers with frivolous, non-emergency calls.
This sort of behavior really gives ammunition to Vladimir Putin when he disses American exceptionalism. In America, you're considered a brown-nosing overachiever if you make the supreme sacrifice of turning 90 degrees to drop medical tubing into the wastebasket instead of flushing it.
Accept that the fate of the nation's sewers is in your hands – or it'll be up around your ankles.
Danny welcomes reader e-mail responses at firstname.lastname@example.org and visits to his Facebook fan page "Tyree's Tyrades".