In this terrifying age of black market detergent, poop-laced almond cakes, and flammable sunscreen, here's yet another product that consumers should be weary of: flushable wipes.

According to the Washington Post, while pre-moistened personal wipe products — a popular TP alternative amongst potty-training tykes, older folks, and those suffering from various forms of gastrointestinal distress — do indeed magically disappear when flushed down the toilet as advertised, they go on to wreak considerable havoc on aging sewer systems where they clog pipes, jam pumps, and create blockages.

In the greater Washington D.C. area alone, pre-moisented wipes have cost utilities millions of dollars in repair work and resulted in utility workers being sent out on “wipes patrol” when instead they could be dedicating their time to less-preventable maintenance and repair tasks. Utility DC Water reports that over 500 man-hours have been spent on dealing with damage resulting from a scourge of wipes flooding sewer systems over the past 12 months while officials in Ann Arundel, Md. blame a 35 percent jump in clogged lines and broken pumps over the past few years on wipes.

While they don’t always appear on “do not flush” lists along with items such as prescription drugs, diapers, dental floss, dryer sheets, dead animals, and last night’s leftover meatloaf (unlike traditional baby wipes, this new breed of wipes are marketed as being sewer- and septic-safe), officials not just in D.C. but around the country have fingered "flushable" wipes as being a huge problem, a legitimate “menace” if you will. “Just because you can flush it doesn’t mean you should,” I.J. Hudson of the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission tells the Post.

So what then, is the solution, considering that Americans, incontinent or not, seem to be positively hooked on flushable wipes that, in 2012, accounted for 14 percent of the $4 billion “pre-moistened wipes” market?

Bidets? Psyllium supplements? Post-poo showers? Perhaps this $15 gizmo that moistens regular toilet paper and allows users to declare “hey mom, ‘no more underwear stains and streaks!” will liberate our comfort-craving nation from the destructive grip of flushable wipes (in all honestly, unless there are young children in the house, I can’t imagine a more embarrassing bathroom accessory). 

Utilities simply recommend sticking to the basics: TP.

In the meantime, the Federal Trade Commission is apparently looking into the dubious “flushable” label and wipes manufacturers are working to develop products that “reduce wear and tear on sewer systems and septic tanks.”

Dave Rousse, president of the trade group Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry, blames the issue not on advertised-as-flushable wipes but folks who toss things like paper towels and baby wipes down the loo: “We all agree the solution to the problem is to reduce the burden on wastewater treatment systems. We agree we need to label products appropriately and educate the public to flush responsibly — to look for and obey disposal instructions.”

Meanwhile across the pond, utility companies in London are rallying not against flushable wipes but against cooking grease which, once poured down the drain, goes on to form massive "fatbergs" in the city's antiquated sewer system.

Time to fess up (no judging here:) Do you regularly buy pre-moistened wipes that are labeled as being flushable?

Via [Washington Post] via [Gawker]

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Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

Increasingly popular 'flushable' wipes wreak havoc on utilities
Although they may spell comfort and convenience for some, 'flushable' wipes equal an expensive headache for utilities.