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Human sewage eating away sewer pipes throughout drought-stricken California

Human sewage

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(NaturalNews) As if California doesn't have enough problems, ranging from its severe drought to the ongoing threat of forest fires, it's now experiencing the possibility that human sewage may soon be strewn about its streets. The problem is facing San Francisco in particular; there, pipes are about 150 years old and considered a "working relic." The term working puts it kindly since they're basically so old that they're much more prone to problems than newer ones.(1)

Couple an already fragile piping system with 1) less water flow due to water conservation efforts, and 2) the amount of human waste traveling through them remaining the same, if not more than before, and you've got a recipe for disaster. Simply put, you've got an old system which now has less drainage capability grappling with a great deal of human waste trying to make its way through. Yet it can't very easily, and therein lies the problem.

San Francisco Public Utilities Commission Assistant Manager Tommy Moala, said human waste is "an organic material. It breaks down. It creates hydrogen sulfide. That eats up the concrete in the pipes if it sits there long enough."(1)

Problems traced to aging pipes not uncommon in California

Just over five years ago, a broken pipe in San Francisco caused a minimum of 500,000 gallons of partially treated sewage to flow into the San Francisco bay, something which was ultimately contained by several sanitary plant officials. It was believed that sewage maintenance, the plant's location on a steep hill, the pipe's continuous exposure to tide water and an aging pipe system caused the problem. However, throughout the entire state, aging pipes are wreaking havoc on an almost regular basis.(2)

In 2013, a 75-year-old pipe burst at San Francisco's Filbert and Mason streets, causing gravel, dirt and water to grow into an ankle-deep mess. Intersections were closed, cable cars were shut down, and some area households didn't have water. Cold February temperatures, coupled with -- surprise, surprise -- an aging piping system were to blame.(3)

The issue of outdated pipes isn't just problematic for San Franciscans. During the summer 2014, a water main in Sacramento, California broke, disrupting activities at UCLA and resulting in a loss of 8 million gallons of water. Max Greenberg of the Trenchless Company in Sacramento said, "Our infrastructure is aged and beyond it's life expectancy."(4)

Getting over taboo, awkward thoughts involving waste

While the issue of old pipes persists, the topic of sanitation is one that apparently renders people awkward. "Sanitation is not a sexy issue," said Dan Yeo, a senior policy analyst at WaterAid, a nongovernmental organization focusing on hygiene, water and sanitation issues. "It's about s---, and that's not particularly attractive. It's a taboo to talk about in a lot of contexts." Yeo therefore argues that people tend to see broken, failing pipe infrastructures as one thing, while sanitation issues are generally brushed under the carpet. "That taboo is one reason that sanitation hasn't taken off as a major issue in the public's mind," he says.(5)

However, overcoming awkwardness and embarrassment is essential if we are to avoid the mass health epidemics that could arise from inappropriate waste disposal. Whether it's a failing pipe system on the brink of bursting or countries where open defecation and runoff into streams and the environment are commonplace, it's clear that the matter needs to be addressed.

However, as with many issues in life, two things are at play when it comes to pipe maintenance: 1) funding problems and 2) an "out of sight, out of mind" mentality. Rose George, the author of The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters, says that in the United States, "there's a massive, multimillion-dollar gap between the funding that is needed to maintain the sewer system and what is being given. Even a five-minute rainstorm can overwhelm the sewer system." So, you can imagine the stress put on pipes in today's an ever-increasing population as waste is flushed several times daily.(5)

Furthermore, George explains that people tend to abuse the sewer systems in place simply because they aren't visible. Hence, the "out of sight, out of mind" thought process.

It's a worldwide problem of which California is no stranger. Considering all of the problems already bombarding the state, hopefully one area that will be looked into -- and resolved -- sooner rather than later involves fixing old pipe infrastructures so residents aren't walking the streets in their own waste.

Sources for this article include:

(1) http://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com

(2) http://www.theguardian.com

(3) http://www.nbcbayarea.com

(4) http://sacramento.cbslocal.com

(5) http://www.livescience.com

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