By rctadmin on February 25, 2022 Comments
Since the early 2000s, so-called ‘flushable’ wipes have become a common hygiene product used in the homes of many Rockland County residents. A large number of consumers view these products as a sanitary improvement over traditional toilet paper, leading to the creation of a multi-billion dollar industry in the U.S. To many consumers, these wipes have appeared to perform as advertised- but appearances can be deceiving. Many homeowners learn the hard way that while these wipes may technically be “flushable by size,’ they can clog up pipes over time, causing nasty sewage backups in the home. One plumbing disaster is usually a sufficient wake- up call to revisit the use of these wipes, but those that don’t suffer from personal experience often remain unaware of the havoc these products can create in our local wastewater management systems. That ‘flushable’ wipe may have made it down your toilet, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t wreaking havoc in a municipal treatment facility down the line. In fact, there’s a good chance that your ‘flushable’ wipe will eventually find its way creating a ball or rope with other problematic materials forming a large clog known in the industry as a ‘fatberg.” These clogs are often found to consist of large amounts of wipes and their prevalence is likely costing you money, either as a payment to your plumber or in increased maintenance costs on your tax bill. As more and more municipalities are forced to deal with increased costs and maintenance, the number of lawsuits against the manufacturers of ‘flushable’ wipes has grown.
Probably the most high-profile lawsuit over the marketing and sale of these wipes is a current case out of Charleston, S.C., where the Charleston Wastewater System is suing several manufacturers of wipes marketed and sold as ‘flushable.’ These manufacturers attempted to have Charleston’s case dismissed, but a federal judge denied that motion, and citing precedent, ruled that the “defendants label their products as flushable with the knowledge- and intent- that consumers rely upon this representation.” This lawsuit has already resulted in a settlement with Kimberly-Clark, a pioneering leader in the flushable wipes industry to settle with Charleston. In this settlement, Kimberly-Clark agreed to improve the biodegradability of its wipes, revisit its marketing tactics, and to meet industry standards of flushability by May 2022. There has also been progress in addressing this problem on the legislative front. Some states have implemented the requirement that other personal use wipes, such as cosmetic removers and household cleaning wipes, must now be sold with “DO NOT FLUSH” markings on the packaging. This is an important awareness effort, as it is estimated that a large percentage of wipes that were never intended to be flushed are also finding their way into wastewater treatment plants. At the federal level a bipartisan bill was introduced into the House of Representatives earlier this year calling for nationwide standards for the flushability of disposable wipes. The Protecting Infrastructure and Promoting Environmental Stewardship (PIPES) Act would require the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to establish standards for the flushability of wipes and ensure that these products, when marketed as “flushable” or “sewer and septic safe,” do in fact travel through and break
down in wastewater systems without causing harm to plumbing, sewers or the environment. Setting a strict, national standard for flushability would certainly go a long way toward ensuring manufacturers are held accountable for their marketing and sales claims, but actually resolving the problem that flushable wipes has become will take a much broader effort. One key component is to increase local awareness at the consumer level, and a great starting point for that is to educate Rockland residents on the impacts on our local sewer district. Rockland County Sewer District #1 covers Clarkstown, Ramapo and a portion of Orangetown, and serves 210,000 out of the 340,000 Rockland residents. It consists of two wastewater treatment treatment plants; one in Orangetown adjacent to the Town of Orangetown plant and the newer Western Ramapo plant located in Hillburn. As Supervisor, I am by my office, a member of the Board of Sewer Commissioners of Rockland County Sewer District Number One and have served as the Chairman since 2016. I have seen firsthand the rise in clogs and maintenance issues over the past several years, and while we don’t have direct statistics that say flushable wipes are responsible for any given percentage of these clogs, we do know that disposable wipes are almost always present in the most problematic clogs in our system. Virtually every instance of a sewer backup involves fatbergs that include so-called flushable wipes. Just as any homeowner would need to bring in a plumber at a hefty price to remove a clog in their home, the Sewer District must pay substantial costs to deal with this ever increasing problem. Much the same as we want to avoid a plumbing nightmare in our homes, we should want to avoid an even larger, collective problem in our municipal wastewater systems. It all starts with
our individual choices as consumers to make responsible decisions. This is why I am writing this column to alert the public to this issue, that the use of ‘flushable’ wipes can have unintended and disastrous effects to both our homes and our municipal infrastructure. In addition, the District, supported by various members of the Legislature as well as the County Executive, is joining a class action suit brought by the Attorney General to force a change in marketing as well as possibly recoup money to address the costs associated with this ever growing problem. Hopefully, this coupled with other actions being contemplated will bring about the needed change so we can “flush the troubles with disposable wipes away.”
Not-So “Flushable” Wipes Wreak Havoc On Rockland’s Sewer Systems added by rctadmin on February 25, 2022 View all posts by rctadmin →