Flushable wipes cause major problem for Cincinnati sewers

Flushable wipes cause major problem for Cincinnati sewers
Published: May. 18, 2015 at 6:51 PM EDT|Updated: May. 19, 2015 at 2:30 AM EDT
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Clogged intake pump at the Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati
Clogged intake pump at the Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati
Clogged intake pump at the Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati
Clogged intake pump at the Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati

CINCINNATI (FOX19) - A warning about this story. It's a little nauseating.

You know those flushable wipes you may have in the bathroom? Well, they are causing big problems and costing you money. It turns out, they may not be so flushable after all.

While the products are marketed as “flushable,” experts told FOX19 NOW they don't dissolve like toilet paper and can clog pipes. Each year the Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati spends hundreds of thousands of dollars to deal with this problem.

Time lapse video:

"I think this is a classic case of just because it says you can, doesn't mean you should," Mike Pittinger, MSD's Wastewater Collection Superintendent.

Pittinger said over the last ten years they've seen a dramatic uptick in the use of flushable wipes and the havoc they cause the sewer system.

Revolting photos of a clogged pump intake show the problems the wipes and other non-soluables can cause. Two days each week, a two-man crew spends hours cleaning out MSD'S one-hundred pumping stations. Flushable wipes are the primary culprit causing the clogs.


"It's nasty and time-consuming work. There's a significant expense on the maintenance side," he said.

And Hamilton County is not alone, other U-S cities are spending millions on wipe-related repairs. And then there "the fatberg," an 11-ton lump of wipes and other non-flushables that literally broke the London sewer system.

But there's no denying how popular the wipes are, especially with moms. One Cincinnati mother of a four-year-old told FOX19 NOW she started using the product while potty-training her son.

The problem is the cloth-like material just doesn't break down the way toilet paper does. Both P & G and Target are facing a class-action lawsuits that claim the companies are falsely advertising the wipes as "flushable." Some are labeled with fine-print disclaimers that advise consumers to flush just one of two wipes at a time for best results. Some manufacturers are making changes, COSTCO recently came out with new packaging that has a "no flush" label.

"They are flushable, quite a few things are flushable, you can flush a golf ball, I don't know if you should," said Mike Roberts, senior plumbing specialist with HELP, Plumbing, Heating, Cooling and Electric. Roberts says 8 out of 10 residential clogs in Cincinnati involve flushable wipes and tree roots.

"Where we have old clay drain tile, they will get hung up on the breaks and separations in the lines, which can cause back-ups in the home and sometimes damage," he said.

According to MSD, On March 26, 2015 a group of five associations (National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA), American Public Works Association (APWA), Water Environment Federation (WEF), Canadian Water & Wastewater Association (CWWA), and INDA), representing the water sector and the nonwoven fabrics industry, will meet in Washington, D.C to explore the establishment of a collaborative product stewardship initiative to promote greater responsibility for the proper disposal of nonwoven products, including wipes not designed to be flushed.

They are working collaboratively on the joint development of a new edition of guidelines that will influence product design and support the marketing of nonwoven products as "flushable," with no adverse effects on wastewater systems.

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