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Going to the Dogs

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Oh, the irony. Last week, a Boston-area neighborhood was flooded after a storm drain clogged. When city workers in Canton, MA, delved into the problem, they found a 3,600-foot-long blockage inside a drainage pipe.

Now, we know all sorts of materials can cause clogged pipes. Disposable wipes—now almost universally known as “so-called flushable wipes”—are notorious for failing to break down as their manufacturers insist they will. Water Efficiency magazine ran an article about the problem. More recently, we’ve been hearing about oil and grease—often intermingled with items like disposable wipes—causing giant clogs, like the 140-ton Whitechapel fatberg that occurred last year in London.

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But the Canton story has a different twist. One of the most ubiquitous threats to water quality, and one of the behaviors cities spend lots of public outreach effort getting people to correct, is pet owners’ failure to pick up after their animals. The bacteria in pet waste can pollute streams and rivers. We all know we’re supposed to carry baggies to pick up our dogs’ poop and properly dispose of it. And after years of encouraging, nagging, posting signs, and even putting pet stations in public areas to provide dog-walkers with the appropriate tools, the practice has largely caught on.

So what happened in Canton? It seems many people skipped the last step—proper disposal—and dropped the doggie bags not in their own trash cans, or even in their neighbors’ trash somewhere along the route, but into the storm drain instead. The start of the clog consisted mainly of bags of pet waste. The resulting flooding covered several blocks and sent inches-deep water into homes and garages.

“It cost us $8,500 to $9,000. We had to get a special truck that we don’t own to come in and help us clean up,” says a Canton public works official quoted here. SW_bug_web

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