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Improper disposal of wipes, gloves spark health, environmental concerns

The coronavirus pandemic has led many people to buy whatever they can to protect themselves, but the way some are disposing the products is becoming a problem.

WASHINGTON — The coronavirus pandemic has led many people to buy whatever they can to protect themselves, such as, disinfectant wipes, masks and gloves.

However, the methods some people are using to get rid of the protective and cleaning tools is becoming a problem.

"Messy, gross," is how Lyn Riggins, who is the spokesperson for WSSC Water, described what workers are pulling out of pumps at water treatment facilities.

"Wipes don't break up like toilet paper," Riggins said.

Riggins told WUSA9 disinfectant wipes are being flushed down the toilet and traveling to water treatment facilities fully intact.

"We're seeing a considerable increase in those wipes that you use to wipe off your counters or wipe your hands with. We've always used (them), but we're using more than ever now in the wake of COVID-19."

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WSSC Water spent about $1.5 million over the past decade installing claw-like grinder pumps to deal with the problem.

However, not all of WSSC Waters' facilities are equipped with the grinders, and that means when things get too bad, workers have to shut down the pumps, manually unclog them and haul the garbage to a landfill.

"What happens to the waste water? It is going to overflow and it is going to come into the environment, or in your house. If you flush a lot of wipes, at some point, it's going to become a wad in your pipe," Riggins said. "They're going to be like a dam. Then, you're going to go and flush that toilet, and that waste water is going to hit that dam, and it’s going to back up into your basement."

WUSA9 viewer S.L. Young brought up another problem: Latex gloves being thrown on the ground instead of trash cans.

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Not only is littering against the law, but doctors warn improper disposal of protective equipment can be dangerous.

Dr. Linda Nabha told WUSA9 the coronavirus "can live on surfaces, including latex. So, it could be a source of infection if not careful."

Additionally, a study published in the Journal of Hospital Infection says the virus can live up to eight hours on latex gloves.

The public is encouraged to put used gloves in the garbage to help prevent spreading COVID-19.

Riggins added customers should remember the three Ps before flushing anything down the toilet.

"Pee, poop, and paper -- toilet paper that is," she said.

WSSC Water advised it is also important to look out for so-called "flushable" wipes because they do not break down in the system.

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