Given the increase in complaints of sewer clogging rife across the city, the advertiser conducted an investigation into the problem to find the underlying causes of the sewer problems.
Our sister publication Boksburg Advertiser met Thokozani Maseko from the water and wastewater department, who is the department head of the water management department.
His department is responsible for repairs to burst water pipes, leaks, valves, hydrants and repairs to the sewer network.
During the exclusive interview, Maseko said that residents of the city hold the key to helping the community fight the scourge of sewer pollution, including preventing misuse of the sewer system.
The department has identified residents’ flushing behavior as one of the most important things affecting home plumbing, the city’s sewer system including sewers and treatment plants, and the environment.
It is an undeniable fact that blockades flood hundreds of properties in the city every year, causing misery for homeowners and businesses. This leads to high repair bills and threatens the health of our environment and our communities.
However, the ministry believes that if people stop treating their toilets and drains as trash cans and start properly disposing of items they use on a daily basis, the main causes of the clogs leading to spills in the city’s sewer system could be avoided, instead of flushing them down the toilets.
Throwing a terrifying light on residents’ flushing behavior, which clogs sewers, Maseko said that people flush many items down drains, sometimes without knowing the severity of their action.
These items clog the sewer system and can even damage sewage treatment plants.
“We have solid evidence that certain items that people unconsciously wash down the drain, such as toiletries and food waste, are the biggest contributors to sewer blockages and are therefore devastating to the environment,” said Maseko.
Workers at the sewage treatment plant fish out more than 50,000 tons of foreign matter.
“We found fetuses, fully developed babies, corpses of adults, used toiletries, condoms, and food waste such as bones and animal skulls.”
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According to Maseko, the things the sewer system is designed for are toilet waste (urine, fecal matter and toilet paper) and dishwashing or basin or bath waste (water, washing liquid and soap).
“Anything other than the above will cause serious sewer problems if it is flushed down the toilet or drain.
“Some of these are obvious, but there are a few others that the city believes people thought it was okay to get into the sewers.”
The following items should not be flushed down the toilet or drain to minimize clogging in the sewer line and to keep the sewage treatment system running smoothly:
These include hygiene items (such as wet wipes, pads, and diapers), condoms, diapers, cigarette butts, cloth, ropes, general waste, building materials, debris, grease, and food waste such as fats, oils, and bones.
“While some of the sanitary ware products may be labeled as flushable, the opposite is true as they don’t dissolve like regular toilet paper – and are therefore responsible for the vast majority of sewer clogs that lead to costly repairs.
“Works to repair and remove unsuitable materials from the sewer system that are causing clogs, overflows and damage to the sewer system cost the city millions of rand.
“It also wastes resources that could rather be used elsewhere to improve services to our communities. It is therefore important that the residents change their dishwashing behavior in order to save money and the environment, ”explains Maseko.
Maseko pointed out that there are often misconceptions that recurring sewer overflows are due to faulty infrastructure or poor maintenance.
“It’s not true; I can assure you that this is almost never the case. Most of our clogs are caused by foreign objects that people throw down the drain or flush the toilet.
“We also found that sewer overflows can be caused by water entering the sewer system for the rainwater system, whether through illegal cross-connections on private properties.
“When it rains, people tend to divert the rainwater from their garden into the sewer system, and the stones and sand get in and cause blockages.
“In addition, when it rains, the additional amount of water from these properties can sometimes exceed the capacity of the pipes and lead to overflows that affect the downstream properties.”
The city therefore urges residents to check whether the rainwater from their property does not violate the city’s order.
Some of the major hospitality industries such as hotels and restaurants are also identified as prime suspects as they throw many inappropriate items such as oil and grease down the drain and block the system.
“In summer, because it’s warm, the fat liquefies, but in winter, when it’s cold, it becomes rock-hard and leads to blockages. The law requires such industries to have grease traps, but some of them don’t properly maintain these traps and most of the grease ends up in our sewer system.
“From industrial areas there is sewage from the plants, dirty water with minimal chemicals, but they are not solid in it and do not affect the clogging.
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Maseko said other culprits were illegal miners who are deliberately blocking the system to use the wastewater to look for gold in the disused mines.
“If it can stop all of these activities, it means we only have to deal with natural blockages, which are usually easy to handle with minimal resources.
“Of course there are natural blockages that are caused by the movement of earth and lead to imbalances in the sewer system.
“We also have cases where the tree roots go into our sewer system and block it, but we don’t get many of these natural causes. Avoiding the main causes, foreign bodies, will drastically reduce the burden and there will only be a few cases of sewer blockages. “
Maseko said that changing the situation will require a renewed concerted effort from both the public and private sectors in raising consumer awareness of what can and cannot be flushed.
Maseko claimed that after receiving complaints, his department usually responded within the mandated turnaround time, except during the tough lockdown when it was working concurrently with reduced staff.
The capacity of the infrastructure will be upgraded from time to time to meet demand and meet the required standard.
“The system is not an issue, the issue is vandalism by throwing foreign objects.
It is very important that people understand what the sewer line is designed for.
“It is designed to take the specified waste from your home to the main collection line at the waste treatment facilities.
“While the rainwater system only collects rainwater from the streets and houses then channel it into the river or streams, only rainwater ends up in the rivers and oceans. The two do not have the same function.
The city has 19 processing plants and they are designed to function well within their designed capacity while some of them are operating above their planned capacity. “We have a master plan to operate them as regional sewage treatment plants, that is, to turn four sewage treatment plants into one.
The city urges residents to report sewer overflows, blockages and those who violate the Sewage and Industrial Waste Water Ordinance by calling 0860 543 000.