The San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board, at its September 9 meeting, presented Central Contra Costa Sanitary District with the Water Board’s “WuHoo!” Award.
The Water Board presents the WuHoo Award annually in memory of former Board employee Dr. Teng-chung Wu, an early advocate for pollution prevention. Dr. Wu believed the best way to keep San Francisco Bay clean was to keep pollutants from getting into wastewater, instead of constructing expensive treatment works to remove them.
This year’s WuHoo Award recognizes the Central Contra Costa Sanitary District’s leadership in public education about problems caused by flushable wipes. These so-called “flushable” wipes do not break down in sewers and can cause sewage blockages and backups that overflow onto streets and homes. Overflows pose enormous environmental and public health hazards. Flushed wipes also cause major damage at wastewater treatment facilities that can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to repair.
Melody LaBella, the District’s Pollution Prevention Program Coordinator, accepted the WuHoo Award for the District. “Disposable wipes, even those labeled ‘flushable,’ are a problem for all wastewater collection and treatment agencies,” she said. “Significantly more maintenance work is required to remove wipes from sewer pipes, pumps, and treatment plant equipment. We feel it’s important to do what we can to minimize the sewer overflows they cause.”
The District’s leadership with education about wipes began in 2009. More recently, the District launched a vigorous “Wipes Clog Pipes!” campaign, spreading the message at community events and through newsletters, social media ads, and a giant billboard along Interstate 680. The District is also working with industry groups to develop new flushability guidelines and improve wipes’ design and labeling.