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California Residents Run Out of Toilet Paper — Clog Entire City’s Sewer With Shredded T-Shirts

Officials in a northern California city reminded residents on Thursday that despite shortages caused by the coronavirus outbreak they should flush only toilet paper into the municipal sewer system.

Public works crewmen in Redding, California, a city of about 90,000 about 200 miles north of San Francisco, cleared a clog Wednesday night from a pump at one of its lift stations, town officials said in a release.

Officials were alerted to the problem when a resident called to say his toilet wasn’t flushing, according to Ryan Bailey, assistant director of public works.

“Their system wasn’t working well,” Bailey said. “Anything and everything is flushable, but it doesn’t mean that it’s OK to put it down the toilet.”

Municipal authorities said the obstruction was caused by shredded T-shirts.

City of Redding Wastewater Management put up portable electric road signs warning residents, “Only flush toilet paper” and “Remember only toilet paper is flushable,” the Redding Record Searchlight reported.

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“Wastewater Management was able to avert a spill but is concerned about the larger environmental and health ramifications presented by this backup,” the city’s release said.

Officials warned a clog could cause fecal material to back up into homes.

“With more people sequestered in their homes and a verifiable shortage of toilet paper, people are resorting to the use of other materials when using the restroom,” the city said. “It is crucial – at all times, but especially during the evolving circumstances surrounding COVID-19 — for the public to refrain from putting anything aside from toilet paper down the toilet.”

The city urged residents that if they “need to use anything aside from toilet paper, remember this important message: ‘Bag it. Don’t flush it.’”

California’s poop problems didn’t start with the coronavirus

Fecal contamination of waterways was a problem in California before the outbreak of coronavirus disease 2019, or COVID-19, and a widespread problem in other states with large homeless populations.

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The presence of fecal bacteria in water is usually the result of problems with sewer systems and septic tanks. But water quality officials agree that the source of at least some of the fecal bacteria is California’s growing homeless population, most of whom don’t have reliable access to toilets.

In Seattle, homeless people living in RVs are accused of dumping raw sewage straight into storm drains, which flows directly to local waterways. In Oregon, workers cleaning up homeless camps along the Willamette River in Eugene routinely find feces and needles.

Shortages of many items have been reported nationwide since the outbreak of COVID-19, and some law enforcement departments have been forced to respond. Police in Newport, Oregon alerted the public via Facebook not to call them if they ran out of toilet paper.

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