Killing Roots with Death Foam

Chemicals Being Deployed to Keep Sewer Pipes Clear

Santa Barbara solid waste planners will now be deploying herbicidal foams to prevent root intrusion into city sewer laterals to prevent further sewage backups during storm events. The City Council approved spending $50,000 with Duke’s Root Control and Pacific Sewer Maintenance to apply root-killing chemicals sporting names like Sanafoam, Vaporooter, and Razorooter. These chemicals are twice as effective at keeping root intrusion in check as manual methods, said sewage specialist Chris Toth, who added that the trees involved should not be harmed by the application. In filings with the Environmental Protection Agency, the manufacturers of Vaporooter and Razorooter disclose their product “may be fatal if absorbed through the skin.”

From 2008 to 2010, City Hall experienced 40 sewage overflows a year, mostly because roots had crept into older sewage pipes, rendering them impassable. In the last three years ​— ​all notably dry ​— ​the incidence of overflow has dropped dramatically. The city’s sewage problems gave rise to a lawsuit filed by the Santa Barbara Channelkeeper. As part of that settlement, the city agreed to maintain its sewage pipes more aggressively. Of the city’s 257 miles of sewage pipe, Toth said, 16 have been identified as problematic. He explained two chemicals were being tried out ​— ​one more caustic than the other ​— ​to see which one worked best and with the least side effects. Because the city has not used such chemicals to maintain sewer lines before, Toth said, both contractors would start slowly, monitoring as they went to ensure no adverse consequences.

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