Flushable wipes cost taxpayers after not breaking down - Western Mass News - WGGB/WSHM

Flushable wipes cost taxpayers after not breaking down

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(Western Mass News photo) (Western Mass News photo)

It's a product that many keep handy at home: flushable wipes.  However, public works departments said that they are clogging up sewer lines throughout the country.

Flushable wipes have become a staple in many homes, but they are costing taxpayers big bucks. 

"The packaging will say flushable. That doesn't mean it's going to break down once its flushed," said Keith Milne, chief operator of waste water treatment for the town of Deerfield.

The flushable wipes end up at a waste water treatment plant.  An aerator is clogged with materials that really shouldn't be there. 

"They will get in the water, get caught up in pumps, aerators, pipes and other equipment and cause excessive wear and tear and a lot more manpower at times trying to unclog," Milne explained.

Deerfield is one of  many communities taking on a hefty bill to deal with flushable wipes...

"Towns are having to spend millions of dollars to upgrade their facilities," Milne added.

The wipes are designed to breakdown like toilet paper, but instead the wipes can form huge masses. 

At the Deerfield waste water treatment plant, there are mounded rags that are actually wipes.

"I read an article that showed a one ton ball of rags pulled out of a sewer in London. They had to use a crane, took a hundred people for that one," Milne said.

They called it 'fatberg.' 

Western Mass News rolled up their sleeves to test out the wipes.  With water and a mixer, we first tried toilet paper.  It broke apart in seconds.

We then tried the Equate brand of flushable wipes.  After about a minute and thirty seconds, it starts to break up, but still in chunks.

However, the Cottonelle brand wipes were a different story.  After five minutes of continuous churning, the wipes are still in large pieces.   

"It's costly and we've had to make costly repairs, as have many other communities," said Wendy Foxmyn, Deerfield's town administrator.

Manufacturers are not fading away.  It's a multi-billion dollar industry and some consumers and municipalities are taking the matter to court. 

However, homeowners can also deal with damage. 

"It takes away the volume or capacity of a septic system. Over time, it can build up and now, the treatable amount of water and bacteria has been reduced and it's now being occupied by solid waste," Milne said.

According to the Responsible Flushing Alliance, sewage clogs from flushable wipes is down from 7 percent to 2 percent in 2010.

"I think it's important for manufacturers to realize the burden and the cost to society," Milne noted.

The Association for Nonwoven Fabrics said in a press release that non-flushable baby wipes is the main problem.  They said that a recent analysis of New York City subway clogs showed that 38 percent of the material was non-flushable baby wipes. 

"It is a global issue," Milne said.

We reached out to both Cottonelle's parent company, Kimberly-Clarke, and Equate.

Kimberly-Clarke said that their products "meet or exceed widely accepted industry standards for flushability."  They said that that the issues can be resolved through consumer education about what can and cannot be flushed. 

We have not yet heard back from Equate.

Copyright 2017 Western Mass News (Meredith Corporation).  All rights reserved.

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