News Feature | March 18, 2014

Flushable Wipes On Trial

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

The maker of flushable wipes is facing a federal class-action suit filed by customers who say the product clogged their plumbing. 

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."

A lawsuit recently filed by Brooklyn resident Joseph Kurtz cites Kimberly-Clark and Costco Wholesale corporations "and seeks damages of at least $5 million," ABC News reported

"The suit filed on Feb. 21 in the Eastern District of New York represents 100 people and claims that consumers around the country have suffered through clogged pipes, flooding, jammed sewers and problems with septic tanks due to the use of flushable wipes," the report said. 

“They do not break down as manufacturers advertise,” according to court documents filed by Kurtz, cited in the New York Post. 

A spokesman for Kimberly-Clark Corp., the manufacturers of Cottonelle products, responded to the allegations in a statement published by UPI.

"Kimberly-Clark has an extensive testing process to ensure that our flushable wipes products meet or exceed all industry guidelines and we stand behind our claims of flushability," the spokesman said.

Mark Reich, who represents the plaintiff, explained the motivation for suing. He said his client "was forced to spend $600 on plumbers to clear his backed-up pipes," according to the Post. 

Homeowners are not the only ones struggling with flushable wipes. New York City has wrestled with them, too.  

"Over the past five to six years, New York City's Department of Environmental Protection has spent over $18 million to have these wipes removed by hand from the sewer system, according to Deputy Commissioner Vincent," the ABC report said. 

Deputy Commissioner Vincent Sapienza told the New York Post: “The increase in clogs and problems we’ve been having in New York City — it seems to almost correlate directly with the increase in sales of these flushable wipes. They make it all the way to the plant and they just wrap themselves around our equipment.”

"The DEP now carts away 110,000 cubic yards of debris each month from its treatment plants — double the volume taken away just five years ago," the report said, citing Sapienza.

“They’re gumming up our works,” he said. “Our guys are continually having to take pumps apart because they get clogged. We stopped being surprised, but it’s a lot of work.”

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.