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'Flushable' wipes blamed for sewer clogs

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By The Associated Press
Monday, Sept. 23, 2013, 6:12 p.m.

BEMUS POINT, N.Y. — Bathroom wipes — pre-moistened towelettes that are often advertised as flushable — are being blamed for clogs and backups in sewer systems around the nation.

Wastewater authorities say wipes may go down the toilet, but even many labeled flushable aren't breaking down in the sewer system. That's costing some municipalities millions of dollars to unclog pipes and pumps and to replace and upgrade machinery.

The problem got so bad in this western New York community this summer that sewer officials set up traps to figure out which households the wipes were coming from. They mailed letters and then pleaded in person for residents to stop flushing them.

The National Association of Clean Water Agencies, which represents 300 wastewater agencies, says it has been hearing complaints from sewer systems for about the past four years.

A trade group says wipes are a $6 billion-a-year industry, with sales expected to grow at a rate of 6 percent annually for the next five years.

Manufacturers insist wipes labeled flushable aren't the problem, pointing instead to wipes marked as nonflushable.

Wastewater officials agree that wipes aren't the only culprits but say their problems have escalated with the wipes market.

The problem got worldwide attention in July when London sewer officials reported removing a 15-ton “bus-sized lump” of wrongly flushed grease and wet wipes, dubbed the “fatberg.”

The Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry, the trade group known as INDA, recently revised voluntary guidelines and specified seven tests for manufacturers to use to determine which wipes to call flushable.

The wastewater industry would prefer mandatory guidelines but supports the INDA initiatives as a start.

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