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Not-So “Flushable” Wipes Wreak Havoc On Rockland’s Sewer Systems

If you’re a parent, there’s a good chance you’ve delivered a lecture explaining an important life lesson: the fact that you CAN do something  doesn’t mean that you SHOULD do that something. Chances are that your lecture did not involve “flushable” hygiene wipes, but there may not be a more appropriate application for that concept found anywhere else. That ‘flushable’ wipe may have made it through your toilet, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t wreaking havoc in your own pipes or in a municipal treatment
facility down the line.


Sometime in the early 2000’s, these so-called ‘flushable’ wipes became a common hygiene product used in homes across the nation. To many consumers, these wipes have appeared to perform as advertised, but appearances can be deceiving. Many homeowners learned the hard way that while these wipes may technically be “flushable” by size, they often don’t dissolve. If one gets caught on other material in a pipe, it won’t be long before others begin to attach and create a clog. Many homeowners have dealt with nasty sewage backups in their homes as a result. One plumbing disaster is usually a sufficient wake-up call for a homeowner to revisit the use of these wipes. While getting hit with thousands of dollars in plumber’s fees typically ends the use of wipes in a household, many consumers still don’t consider the havoc these products often create in our local wastewater management systems or the financial impact to their own
wallets as taxpayers.


The unfortunate reality is that your ‘flushable’ wipe will eventually find itself attached to a larger ball or rope with other wipes and problematic materials forming a large clog known in the industry as a  ‘fatberg.” These clogs are often found to consist of large amounts of wipes and their prevalence is almost certainly creating increased sewer maintenance costs on your tax bill.


The damage to municipal sewer systems can be devastating, so much so that multiple attempts at federal legislation have been proposed to better regulate how these wipes are constructed and marketed.  nfortunately, no laws have actually been passed to date. Setting a strict, national standard for flushability would certainly go a long way toward ensuring manufacturers are held accountable for their marketing and sales claims, but actually resolving the problem that flushable wipes have become will take a much broader effort. One key component is to increase local awareness at the consumer level, and a great starting point for that is to educate Rockland residents on the impacts on our local sewer district.


Rockland County Sewer District #1 covers Clarkstown, Ramapo and a portion of Orangetown, and serves over 60% of Rockland’s residents. It consists of two wastewater treatment treatment plants; one in Orangetown adjacent to the Town of Orangetown plant and the newer Western Ramapo plant located in Hillburn. As Supervisor, I am by my office, a member of the Board of Sewer Commissioners of Rockland County Sewer District #1 and have served as the Chairman in the past. I have seen firsthand the rise in
clogs and maintenance issues over the past several years, and while we don’t yet have direct statistics that say flushable wipes are responsible for any given percentage of these clogs, we do know that disposable wipes are almost always present in the most problematic clogs in our system. Virtually every instance of a sewer clog in recent years has involved fatbergs that include so-called flushable wipes.


Again, resolving this problem starts with our individual choices as consumers to make responsible decisions. This is why I am writing this column: to alert the public that the use of ‘flushable’ wipes can have unintended and disastrous effects to both our homes and our municipal infrastructure. Just because these wipes CAN be flushed, doesn’t mean that they SHOULD be flushed.


Hopefully, a combination of responsible consumer choice, education, and potential federal legislation will bring about the changes needed in order to “flush” these troubles away.