More untreatable waste expected at Charlottetown sewage plant

Staff at Charlottetown's sewage treatment plant are bracing for trouble when waste water from Stratford begins to arrive.

The amount of stuff that shouldn't be there — mostly disposable wipes and cloth rags  — will likely increase, according to the plant superintendent.

"We fill one dumpster a week," said Steven Stewart. "That could go to three when it all gets going."

The city will have a new screening facility up and running in a couple of weeks to help deal with the gunk. It's part of $12 million in upgrades undertaken to handle increased waste at the Charlottetown plant.

The new screening facility will be housed in a separate building on the plant's waterfront property on Riverside Drive.

'Somebody's Calvin Kleins'

The new, finer screen will replace a decades-old machine that currently sifts all manner of items out of the sewage that flows from the homes of Charlottetown residents.

"This looks like somebody's Calvin Kleins," said Stewart, as he used a pitch fork and gloved hands to pick through a knotted wad of cloth and elastic that turned up in the pipes in recent days. The name of the designer-label undergarment was clearly visible.

Brian Higgins/CBC

Over the years, staff have removed many curious items: an animal horn, bones, children's toys, cash. A pair of crinkled $5 bills are kept in the plant as examples of what can turn up. One worker told CBC he once found a $50 bill.  And a set of dentures. 

Staff estimate they remove a "five gallon bucket" of untreatable items from pumping equipment every day. It takes valuable time, and puts staff at risk, according to Stewart.

"You get syringes. Sometimes we have razor blades," said Stewart. "It's a hazard to employees because on a daily basis we have to go in and unplug these things from our pumps.

"Don't put anything in the toilet that isn't toilet paper or number one or number two."

Brian Higgins/CBC

Despite the ongoing problems, city residents are "quite conscientous," according to Charlottetown's sewer and water manager.

"People have educated themselves," said Richard MacEwen. "Island Waste Management does a great job of explaining how the waste-handling system works and people have embraced it."

'Not flushable'

The advent of so-called flushable wipes has created a new challenge in recent years, according to MacEwen.

Brian Higgins/CBC

"They're not flushable," said MacEwen.

Cooking oil and grease also clog pipes and should not be poured down kitchen drains.

The city of Summerside says it's having trouble with people flushing mop heads.

They say staff continue to pull mop heads out of clogged sewage pumping equipment on a regular basis.

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