News Feature | September 25, 2013

'Flushable' Wipes Are Clogging The Sewers

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome
@sarmje

WipesForKids

So-called "flushable" personal wipes are not living up to their name. 

It turns out pre-moistened wipes, such as those marketed for babies and toddlers and billed as safe to throw down the toilet, might not actually be "flushable." Utilities across the country are facing clogs due to these wipes.

This problem is not exactly new. Sewage systems with aging infrastructure have long struggled with "ragging," according to The Washington Post. That's when products such as dental floss and paper towels jam up sewer pipes. Utilities have long understood the need to increase infrastructure reliability, as Water Online has previously reported

The new twist is that even "flushable" items are now a problem.

"The latest menace, officials say, is that wipes and other products, including pop-off scrubbers on toilet-cleaning wands, are increasingly being marketed as 'flushable.' Even ever-thickening, super-soft toilet paper is worrisome because it takes longer to disintegrate, some say," the paper reported this week. 

One utility in the Portland, OR area known as Clean Water Services said it pulls 200 five-gallon buckets full of wipes from sewers per month, according to ABC's local station there, KUVE. 

The problem is costly. In the Washington DC area, wastewater authorities have spent "more than $1 million to install heavy-duty grinders to shred wipes and other debris before they reach pumps on the way to the treatment plant," the Post reported. 

What's the solution?

"Utilities simply recommend sticking to the basics: TP," Mother Nature Network reported

The government may also have a role in changing the labels. 

"The Federal Trade Commission is apparently looking into the dubious 'flushable' label and wipes manufacturers are working to develop products that reduce wear and tear on sewer systems and septic tanks," the network said. 

Wipes are a problem overseas, as well. In London this summer, a glob of grease and wipes that weighed 15 tons was found in the sewers. So-called "Fatberg" continues to afflict the city, and appears to be growing larger.

"The blockage was so critical at one point it threatened to blast the covers off manholes in Kingston with raw sewage," The Daily Mail reported.

Image credit: "Wipes For Kids," © 2010 Michael Coté, used under an Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/deed.en