"Flushable" wipes causing havoc for sewer systems nationwide

Published: Apr. 25, 2014 at 11:21 PM CDT|Updated: Jun. 24, 2014 at 11:21 PM CDT
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MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - There are reports across the country on so-called "flushable" toilet wipes clogging up sewer systems, causing huge problems that lead to expensive repairs, and higher rates.

"Toilet tissue was designed to disintegrate in about 10-15 seconds in the waste stream."  Montgomery Water Works General Manager says the system just can't handle anything else.  "Pumps were designed to handle human waste and not this kind of material. Once these things coagulate and get together, they form like a big rag."

"It has gotten to be a real problem because once it's in the pumps, we have to pull the pump, clean the pump, sometimes it'll tear the pump up," Morgan says. That means costly repairs. "You're talking $2,000-3,000."

Consumer Reports' Bernie Deitrich checked out four brands of flushable wipes. His machine deems them all very strong, yet they all make claims like "breaks up after flushing" and "sewer and septic safe".

Consumer Reports did find that after soaking overnight, two of the products did break down - Cottonelle and Scott. But even after 12 hours, the ones from Charmin and Equate still stayed in one piece.

Trouble is, the flushable wipes didn't break down at all. Even after 10 minutes in a mixer, the wipes stayed intact. "Strong may not be what you want when you're flushing it down your toilet. You want something that will break down easily, so that you don't have problems with your plumbing system. Our advice: If you use these products, don't flush them down the toilet."

The problem is bigger than just what we typically use in the bathroom. Even cleaning supplies that come in wipes are going down the toilet. Morgan says, "Now we got wipes for furniture polish, Clorox wipes, disinfecting wipes, Windex, and everybody drops them in the toilet. There's talk among utilities in the nation that there may be some class-action suits coming to see what we can do to make these things biodegradable."

In the meantime, Morgan makes this request, on behalf of sewage systems everywhere. "Put them in the garbage, don't put them in the toilet."

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