Paynesville Plumbers and City Workers Warn Not to Flush ‘Flushable’ Wipes

PAINESVILLE, Ohio. A product designed to keep clean creates a messy problem for sewer lines and sewage treatment plants. So-called “flushable” wipes are hurting plumbers and city workers in northeast Ohio.

“They can be flushed, but they can only go 5 feet down the line,” said Joshua Duncan, third-generation owner of Duncan Plumbing, LLC at Mentor.

Duncan explained that wipes often get caught in growths or cracks in old pipes, or get stuck in root systems growing through sewer pipes under yards. In some cases, the resulting blockage requires the plumber to dig out the pipe or use a high-pressure cleaning system.

“Essentially, it’s a fabric and it doesn’t decompose like toilet paper,” Duncan explained.

Many wipes are labeled “washable” on the packaging. Some are even labeled “Plumber Approved,” but Duncan cautions never to flush them down the toilet or sink.

“They didn’t ask us, that’s for sure, because it’s not approved by Duncan Plumbing,” he said. “This affects not only the lines of their house, but also the lines of the city, which can be a problem.”

This week, Painesville asked its residents on social media to stop flushing tissues after a large mass of them clogged one of the city’s pumps.

“At some point in the process, after they have been dropped, we have to deal with them, to exclude them from our process. And at some point they end up in a landfill,” explained Kevin Aiken, head of the Painesville water pollution control plant.

He told News 5 that the plant extracts roughly 1.5 tons of wipes from its system every month. Recently, he had to call a faucet to remove a large wad of tissues that was slowing down the digester. According to Aiken, this is an additional cost and time-consuming step that is now part of the process.

“The biggest problem is that rinse-off wipes don’t dissolve,” he said. “You can wash off a lot of things, but it’s probably not ideal. It’s better to just throw away the napkins.

It’s the same advice from plumbers like Duncan, who said throwing tissues in the trash would likely save taxpayers and homeowners money and a headache.

“Throw them in the trash can,” he said. “Definitely don’t throw them down the toilet.”

Rinse-off wipes are a problem all over the country. In April, tissue maker Kimberly-Clark Corp. agreed to pay $20 million to settle a lawsuit filed in federal court in New York. The filing calls for better labeling and compensation for issues that arise when consumers flush wipes.

In 2021, California became the fourth state after Washington, Oregon and Illinois to pass a law requiring companies to add a disclaimer to tissue paper packaging.

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