Newport Police: Don’t call 911 for toilet paper

Toilet paper shelves at Fred Meyer in Newport were empty Friday afternoon. Panic buying related to COVID-19 fears has led to a bathroom tissue shortage in the area, something the Newport Police Department recently advised was not cause to dial 911. (Photo by Kenneth Lipp)

NEWPORT — The Newport Police Department has asked citizens not to call emergency services when they run out of toilet paper.

In a Facebook post Saturday night, the department wrote, “It’s hard to believe we even have to post this. Do not call 911 just because you ran out of toilet paper. You will survive without our assistance.”

The post did not stop at the admonition, though. The department went on to offer historical options for tending to oneself in the privy.

“Seamen used old rope and anchor lines soaked in salt water. Ancient Romans used a sea sponge on a stick, also soaked in salt water. We are a coastal town. We have an abundance of salt water available. Sea shells were also used,” the department suggested.

“When all else fails, you have magazine pages. Start saving those catalogs you get in the mail that you usually toss into the recycle bin. Be resourceful. Be patient. There is a TP shortage. This too shall pass. Just don’t call 911. We cannot bring you toilet paper,” the post read.

Since coronavirus-related closures were first announced last week, stockpiling of toilet paper and items like hand sanitizer — and incidents of price gouging of those items — has been widely reported around the country, and managers at several local stores said this weekend shelves emptied of toilet paper as soon as they were filled.

In light of the potential that alternatives to bathroom tissue will be used, Newport Public Works Director Tim Gross issued an advisory on what is flushable and what is not.

Gross wrote in a press release, “When you use the toilet to dispose of things that should go in the trash, you risk clogging your home’s wastewater pipes and Newport’s wastewater lines and pump stations. This can also affect your neighbor’s sewer lateral as well, and can cause sewage to back up into their house as well as yours.”

Among items to avoid flushing are baby wipes, even those labeled “flushable.”

“Unlike toilet paper, which breaks down quickly in water, wet wipes remain intact and tangle into massive clogs that jam pumps and block pipes. Even those labeled ‘flushable’ do not break down in water. We know people are going to use wipes, especially in light of the toilet paper shortage, but please, use them sparingly and flush only one or two at a time,” Gross wrote.

The release listed other items that shouldn’t go down the toilet, including anything made of plastic, aquarium gravel or cat litter, diapers, cigarette butts, disposable toilet brushes, grease or oil, medications, paper towels, disposable dust towels, tampons and sanitary napkins.