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Convenient Wipe Products Can Wreak Havoc On Plumbing, Sewers

(CBS) -- We are using more and more of them: household wipes and baby wipes.

They are convenient to use, but as CBS 2's Marissa Bailey reports, they are a real problem for sewage systems.

Up in Lake County, it happens about 10 times a week: a sewer pump gets plugged up.  Wipes are getting tangled up in the sewage system.

"We typically can open a plugged pump and see the baby wipes right on there," Mike Grinnell of the Lake County Public Works Department says.

Wipes are everywhere. We are using them to clean just about anything, and too many of them are ending up thrown in the toilet.

"They don't break down. They are not like toilet paper," says plumber Timothy Smith of Bill's Plumbing in Skokie.

Smith says clogged sewer lines can cost homeowners hundreds of dollars to clean out. He tells homeowners not to throw them in the toilet but adds, "You can only tell them so many times."

What about the wipes that are labeled as flushable? Robert Villee is a member of the Water Environment Federation and has studied flushable wipes.

"We don't believe they should be flushed at all.  They don't break down in the system," he says.

CBS 2 tried an unscientific test, soaking five different brands of flushable wipes in water.

They were "Up &Up Moist Tissue Wipes," "Up & Up Toddler Wipes," "Kandoo Wipes," "Charmin Freshmates" and "Cottonelle Fresh Care."

After 24 hours, the Cottonelle brand broke down when touched. But even a week later, the four others did not.

The industry insists flushable wipes are not a problem in the sewers.

Steve Ogle of the industry trade group, INDA, says: "Most of those products do break down in an adequate period of time. It's not as quickly as the industry would like to see it, but it is quick enough."

But both sides agree: Don't flush non-flushable baby wipes or household cleaning wipes.

While the vast majority of wipes are labeled "Do Not Flush," sometimes it's hard to see. The print is tiny and sometimes the "no flush" icons are covered by flaps in the packaging.

"We pull things out of there, just like they flushed them yesterday," says Grinnell, the Lake County Public Works official. "Our labor and overtime costs are increased by $50 to $100,000 in overtime a year."

Wipes are here to stay.

"They are predicting about a 10 percent growth every year in wipes usage," Villee says.

Is there any way to prevent wipes from clogging the pumps?

Grinnell says simply, don't flush them. INDA says wipes manufacturers are working now to make "do not flush" labels more prominent on packaging. It also commented on the CBS 2 test saying it does not replicate what products would experience in the sewer system after being flushed.

Here are full statements from INDA and manufacturers.





Statement from INDA, the leading association of the nonwoven fabrics industry:

The Nonwoven Fabrics Industry developed the Code of Practice (CoP) so any product using this practice would be compliant with labeling laws. The CoP will address all the issues you described by exhibiting the logo in a prominent location and size to be easily recognized plus to be used on both primary and secondary packaging. The CoP was only published this past summer. It takes time for brand owners to secure the necessary approvals from both upstream suppliers and downstream customers/retailers to make the packaging changes and insure it remains compliant with labeling laws.

Your second point concerning your self-proclaimed "unscientific test." It does not replicate what products would experience after flushing. Also, though you may have purchased products labeled Flushable, because of the delay between publication of and compliance to the guidelines and practices you may not have been testing "Flushable" wipes products that are yet compliant. Therefore no conclusions should be drawn about "Flushable" wipes in general based on your experiment.

Regarding the comments you received from "plumbers and public works people," we believe they are incorrect. Forensic data gathered from field studies conducted in conjunction with waste water professionals and from scientifically based field and lab tests compliant Flushable products will not clog pipes or pumps.

KanDoo Flushable Wipes, Nehemiah Manufacturing Co. LLC:

We perform extensive evaluations to ensure our wipes will clear toilet and drain lines and decay in a manner that is appropriate for wastewater treatment systems. Because of our evaluations, we are confident that, if used appropriately in a properly functioning system, Kandoo wipes won't cause plumbing problems.

Our industry association, INDA, working with leading wastewater associations, has recently published new guidelines for assessing the flushability of non-woven disposable products (see recent joint press release.  These guidelines outline seven rigorous tests a product must pass to be properly labeled as flushable.  These tests are designed to simulate real-world conditions of flushing down a toilet, moving through a drainage system and being processed by a wastewater treatment plant. They are a more accurate assessment of flushable products than the "bucket test" you describe below.  Kandoo wipes pass all seven of these rigorous tests. More information about the new guidelines can be found on INDA's website.

Statement from Proctor & Gamble, Charmin Freshmates:

INDA has established guidelines and multiple test methods for evaluating whether it is appropriate to label a product as flushable.  Both INDA and P&G have devoted extensive time and resources, over a period of years, to study the "flushability" of products, taking into account disintegration characteristics and many other factors.  P&G follows these guidelines in determining product labeling.   More information on these methods can be found here.

Up & Up Moist Tissue Wipes, Up & Up Toddler Wipes

Target Corp. did not respond.

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