ACADEMICS HAVE called for urgent research into the public's attitude to waste disposal following the destruction of a road and a sewage pipe in Darlington when a bra and panties were flushed down a WC.
Professor of water engineering at Shefeld university Adrian Saul warned that the problem of blocked sewer pipes could be exacerbated by the mooted introduction of waste collection charges.
He said: ''Waste flushed down toilets causes blockages all the time and it's bound to be affected by changes in waste collection strategies.' The problem is already getting worse with an increase in the number of sewers found to have been blocked by domestic waste inappropriately ushed down WCs.
Saul said: 'It is a highly sensitive but crucial topic that no one has researched.' Saul, with fellow Shefeld university professor of urban drainage Richard Ashley, has conducted studies into the different types of waste flushed in various catchment areas. In one area they found microwave ovens dumped down manholes.
Saul said: 'Anything ushed down the pipe that can snag can cause a blockage. You get a build-up of water that causes a surcharge which nds the easiest exit - a weakness in the pipe or a manhole cover.
'We have been developing blockage prediction models, taking historical data to predict blocks in pipes of different ages, different materials and different types. No one has linked this research to the waste collection strategy in the area. It is an important piece of research because if you're not having your waste collected then you will have to find other places to put it.' A study by Keep Britain Tidy found that more than half of the population ushed 'foreign' objects down the WC last year.
What went wrong
A 2m section of pipe and a 10m stretch of road were destroyed after a bra and panties set was flushed down a toilet in Darlington, County Durham, Northumbrian Water said last week.
The underwear created a blockage in the pipe, which together with heavy rain and a build up of grease ruptured the sewer and destroyed the road above.
A spokesman for the water company said, 'The 9in [23cm] diameter sewer collapsed after the underwear became snagged and a build up of fat and grease blocked the pipe.' Although the bra did not have a wire she said: 'This was a big bra, it had really large cups.' She added the repair will cost more than £15,000, including the repair of the 10m stretch of road.