There has been a timely reminder from Northern Ireland about the dangers of flushing hazardous substances down drains during lockdown with over 20 incidents of water pollution being reported in the region in recent weeks.
The increase in problems is being put down to residents undertaking DIY tasks during lockdown. With more time on their hands, the people of Northern Ireland have taken to decorating and home improvements. They are not always disposing of their waste liquids such as water contaminated with paint in the correct manner.
Most properties are served by two types of drains. Interior drains such as those which serve kitchen and bathroom pipework systems are connected to sewerage systems. This water is taken to treatment plants to be processed.
Water which has been used for cleaning paint brushes, carrying out home improvements, for gardening jobs or in other tasks linked to DIY should be flushed down interior sinks to ensure it undergoes the necessary treatment.
The second type of drain on a domestic property is found in exterior settings and is known as a storm drain. Storm drains are designed to take away only rainwater, which does not require any sort of treatment. As a result, these drains feed pipes which connect directly with rivers.
When people flush contaminated water down their storm drains, they are inadvertently introducing harmful waste into river systems.
It is this lockdown behaviour which has caused the water pollution incidents in Northern Ireland, with the River Lagan at Dromore, County Down particularly effected.
Northern Ireland Environment Minister Edwin Poots said, ““The pollution we’ve observed is most likely the result of the wastewater associated with painting, decorating, cleaning, plastering or doing something similar, being washed into the wrong drain and straight into the nearest river.”
“I know people are taking this time to catch up on jobs around the house but please make sure disposing of the wastewater associated with these DIY jobs don’t damage your local river.”
“It’s important we continue to protect and respect our environment during this time and these simple measures will help do just that.”
Foreign objects being incorrectly flushed into pipework systems was an issue that Britain’s water companies had flagged as a potential danger early in the lockdown process.
When the United Kingdom was gripped by toilet roll panic buying in March, warnings were issued not to flush alternatives such as paper towels, wet wipes, newspapers and other non-biodegradable alternatives down toilets.
Sewerage and toilet systems cannot break down any material that isn’t toilet paper. Once these materials enter pipes, they cause blockages either via snagging or by congealing into a solid mass.
Some water companies have in the past reported finding congealed baby wipes that have built up into blockages the size of a family car.
Residents were also warned about the dangers to the environment of flushing away food and medicines. Water contaminated with paint and DIY materials now finds itself added to that list.