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Don't Flush That! 'Flushable' Wipes Can Wreck Pipes


What should be flushed down the toilet? Only toilet paper and, well, you know.

What shouldn't? Those new, so-called flushable personal wipes, say a growing number of city sewer managers, who are dealing with humongous clumps of these wipes clogging up pipes and sewers across the country.

Unlike toilet paper, which quickly breaks down in water, these other products - despite their claims of being "septic safe" and "breaking down like toilet paper" - tend to stay intact, gumming up sewer systems and causing overflows into streams or basements from jammed pipes and broken pumps.

The moist, cleansing wipes - sort of an adult version of baby wipes, which also aren't flushable - are just part of the problem, reports the Washington Post. Other products, including pop-off scrubbers on toilet-cleaning wands, are increasingly being marketed as "flushable."

"Just because you can flush it doesn't mean you should,"  I.J. Hudson, a spokesman for the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, in Laurel, Md., told the Post.

In Grand Rapids, Mich., city officials sent out "No wipes in the pipes" flyers to residents to urge them to stop flushing the products, and a Raleigh, N.C., sanitation expert pleaded for residents to "just throw [used wipes] in the trash can,"  USA Today reports.

And the problem is not just here. This summer, a 15-ton bus-size glob of wipes and hardened cooking grease - nicknamed a "fatberg" by the Brits - was discovered in a London sewer pipe after residents complained of toilets that would not flush.

A spokesman for Kimberly-Clark, which makes Cottonelle flushable cleansing cloths, told USA Today that the product is tested and designed to be flushed.

When Consumer Reports, however, tested several brands of wipes labeled flushable, they found that while toilet paper disintegrated after only eight seconds, the wipes still hadn't broken down after 30 minutes. ( Click here for video showing the results.)

Wipes manufacturers and an industry trade association are working on better flushability testing standards and a more prominent "Do not flush" logo on other products, according to the Post.

In the meantime, when it comes to flushing, just stick with what officials call the three P's: pee, poop and (toilet) paper.


Photo: Elvert Barnes via flickr


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