ALMOST half of all blockages in sewers across Yorkshire are caused by people putting the wrong things down their toilets and sinks.
Items such as nappies, baby wipes, condoms, sanitary products and hair are among the things that people flush or drain away from bathrooms and kitchens, causing potential blockages in sewers.
Across the UK more than three-quarters - 80 per cent - of sewer flooding is due to blockages.
In Yorkshire, reducing the number of blockages is a huge, ongoing job and Yorkshire Water asks customers to think carefully about the way they dispose of certain items. Heeding this advice will go some way to reducing the number of sewer flooding incidents in the region.
“The only things that should go down are human waste and toilet paper,” says company spokesman Tom Phillips. “Some people do not know what should and should not go down. Some items may be marked ‘flushable’ on the packaging, and will disappear down the toilet, but they do not break down in the sewers.
“Half of blockages we clear are down to 'unsuitable items' including baby wipes, fat, oil, grease, cotton buds and nappies.”
A simple test which is often used to demonstrate the problem is carried out by YW on visits to customers. “We have two bottles, one containing toilet paper and the other a baby wipe. We pour water into both bottles and vigorously shake them. The difference is alarming, with the toilet paper easily breaking up and the wipe unaffected. It has a really good visual impact.”
Such products cause or contribute to blockages in drains and smaller sewers, leading to flooding and pollution. They may also be discharged into the environment via storm overflows at times of very heavy rainfall.
Adds Tom: “They snag on the side of the sewer, then another one catches on to it and does not flow away, and gradually blockages occur that can lead to flooding in people’s homes and on the streets.”
Problems reported by customers include blockages and water spilling from manholes.
Teams of specialist workers are sent out to clear blockages using high-powered jets. On an average day the company carries out around 200 ‘jetvan’ visits to inspect sewers and in heavy rain that can double to 400. “The vans carry a very high pressure hose,” says Tom.
Yorkshire Water oversees around 20,000 miles of sewers, only 4,000 miles less than the circumference of the Earth. The company operates around 600 waste water treatment works, ranging from its largest site in Esholt - which serves around two million homes and four million customers - to small ones, “the size of a dining room table”, in the East Riding.
Over the next five years YW is investing £252 million to improve the quality of its sewer network.
Letter drops in affected areas are among the ways in which the challenge of blocked sewers is confronted. “We rely on people reading the letter and also people being willing to change their habits.”
Areas with blockage ‘hot spots’ are proactively surveyed and inspected, using methods including cameras. Between April last year and February 1 this year almost 91,000 properties had been checked - 12,000 in the Bradford district - 2,000 blockages cleared (240 in Bradford), and around 1,250 sections of sewer repaired (350 in Bradford).
“We focus on areas which historically have had many problems. “
Fat can also clog drains and sewers systems. “When people have a bacon sandwich, for instance, they see the hot fat in its warm, fluid state and pour it away, but in the sewer network it solidifies like candle wax and collects around the sewer pipes, then the next lot does the same and so on until it causes a blockage,” explains Tom.
To help address the problem there are plans to expand the company’s 'Fats to Fuel' recycling scheme in Bradford which involves asking local residents to collect their waste cooking oil in tubs, known as ‘fat vats’, rather than typically pouring the greasy oils such as ghee down the kitchen sink.
The project has virtually eliminated fat blockages in the Bradford Moor area of Bradford
“We want to expand our community engagement into other 'blockage hot spots',” says Tom. This will include using social media. “We want to engage with supermarkets, local community groups and stakeholders such as councillors and MPs.”
Education is vital. “We pass on information about the use of sink strainers and wiping down pans before washing them. We have done various campaigns across the region, including leaflet drops and have put information on the website,” says Tom.
For more information or advice visit yorkshirewater.com or ring 0345 1242424.