News Feature | May 11, 2015

Millions Of Dollars In Sewer Clogs Prompts Flushable-Wipes Lawsuit

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

A Minnesota city is suing six manufacturers of so-called "flushable" personal wipes, alleging that the product is not living up to its name and instead clogging up the sewer system.

"The lawsuit, filed [last month] in federal court, might be the first seeking class-action status on behalf of cities grappling with the disposable cloths that wastewater officials say are plugging pipes and pumps," the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported.

Pitted at the makers of baby wipes, antibacterial towelettes and other similar hygiene products, the lawsuit homed in on the cost of repairing clogged infrastructure. The complaint states: “Flushable wipes remain intact long enough to pass through private wastewater drain pipes into the municipal sewer line, causing clogs and other issues for municipal and county sewer systems and wastewater treatment plants, resulting in thousands, if not millions, of dollars of damages.”

Charmin Freshmates, Cottonelle Fresh Care Flushable Wipes and Cleansing Cloths, Pampers Kandoo Flushable Wipes, and Scott Naturals Flushable Moist Wipes are all mentioned in the suit, according to the Star Tribune.

Here's the industry response, as written in the Star Tribune

Representatives of the industry behind wet wipes argue that people are flushing cloths that never claimed to be flushable, such as cheap baby wipes, meant to be bundled in disposable diapers and thrown in the trash.

That industry has “empathy for the challenges the wastewater operators are having with nonflushable materials impacting their systems,” said Dave Rousse, president of the Association of Nonwoven Fabrics Industry, a trade group representing manufacturers of wipes and other products. “However, we take great exception to any effort to blame flushable wipes for the problems being caused by nonflushable wipes.”

The lawsuit focuses in part on allegedly false claims made by manufacturers, according to Route 50. The suit alleges, per the report: “Despite numerous complaints from state and local sewer authorities both in United States, and internationally, defendants have not removed the false claims regarding the flushability of these wipes.”

The suit says many cities, including Aurora, CO, Beloit, WI, New York City and Raleigh, NC, have faced problems with wipes. Beloit Director of Water Resources Harry Mathos says his city's problem has not been severe, according to Route 50. But the challenge was significant enough that the city launched a "no wipes down the pipes" campaign.

"These products are becoming notorious for blocking private sewer laterals, public sewer mains, and binding up municipal pumps. Items that specifically list the term flushable (but should NOT be flushed) include diapers and diaper liners, baby wipes, pre-moistened wipes, a wide variety of bathroom cleaning wipes and brushes, feminine hygiene products, toilet seat covers, doggy doo-doo bags, and cat litter," the campaign says.

As for the burden that wipes place on wastewater treatment operations, Alabama Media Group shared this sight: "You can go here to see a photo of just what those flushable wipes look like once they reach sewage treatment facilities, but I wouldn't advise it if you haven't eaten breakfast yet."

For more on flushable wipes, visit Water Online's Regulations & Legislation Solution Center.