What not to flush in Manhattan’s sewage system

Manhattan water is pumped from 19 different wells into four basins to be treated at the Manhattan Water Treatment Planton Sept. 23, 2015. (Archive photo by Rodney Dimick | Collegian Media Group)

When the milk in the fridge has gone bad, it is all too easy to dump it in the sink. However, the fat content should be considered when pouring something down the drain, and milk is no exception. High fat content creates a possibility for sewage backups and wastewater leaks into the city environment.

Abdu Durar, environmental compliance manager for Manhattan’s Public Works department, said items containing fat, oil or grease can disturb the balance of the wastewater system.

“The most common things, to be honest with you, are fats, oils and grease,” Durar said. “That’s really one of our major causes for sewer backups.”

Monty Wedel, director of planning and development for Public Works, said grease is also negative for septic tank sewage systems in rural areas where the Riley County Sanitation Code applies.

“In a rural area, you’re going to have a septic tank and lateral fields, so you want to be careful what you put down there,” Wedel said.

Durar said this point is especially important with the holidays coming up because citizens may use poor cooking practices when making holiday foods.

“We are approaching the holiday season, and people cook their turkeys and hams and so forth here,” Durar said. “If they dump their grease from the pan in the sewer system, that’s going to clog the sewer system and may contribute to sewer backup in their residence.”

As a way of avoiding this in the winter, Durar said residents can take fat and grease outside to harden or freeze, and then it will be able to be thrown in the trash.

The Manhattan wastewater system cleans water with living organisms, and these organisms need to be in the proper environment to thrive. Durar said this is why putting unapproved items down the drain can cause problems.

“We rely on the microorganisms, like bacteria, to digest the waste and break it down and make the water clean so we can return it back to the river,” Durar said. “The microorganisms, or bacteria, are pretty sensitive.”

A few of the many items Durar listed to not be put down the drain are bandages, medication, condoms, poison, feminine hygiene products and paper towels. When in doubt, Durar said toilets in particular are only meant for select materials to be flushed.

“The toilets are designed for two things: human waste and toilet paper,” Durar said.

Marlene Irvine, real estate agent and landlord in Manhattan, said she tells her tenants to try to avoid putting too much down the drain. Irvine said being a landlord has shown her how important it is to pay attention to what goes down the drain.

“When I was newly married, my husband used to get mad at me for putting too much down the drain,” Irvine said. “After being a landlord, I realized it’s not the best thing, and I realized with all the extra development the city has been doing, the sewage system is going to have to handle more and more, and we need to protect it.”

Emily Moore
My name is Emily Moore and I'm a senior majoring in English and mass communications with a minor in leadership. I love to read, write and edit. During my free time, I enjoy doing crossword puzzles, rock climbing and spending time with my friends.