October 28, 2013

Wipes standards on the way


---- — CHAZY — There could be some relief coming down the pipe for the Town of Chazy and other municipalities with cleansing-cloth crises.

Prompted by complaints from municipalities around the country — some of which have paid millions of dollars to unclog pipes and rebuild and replace machinery damaged by “flushable” wipes — the Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry recently took some action.

It specified seven tests for manufacturers to use to determine which wipes to call flushable. 

And products that fail the test are supposed to have a universal stick-figure, do-not-flush symbol on packaging.

“That’s good news,” Chazy Superintendent of Water and Wastewater Systems David Siskavich said. “At least someone’s looking into this. Awesome!”


Village of Champlain Mayor Greg Martin says so-called flushable wipes have attacked the pumps in the wastewater system there, too.

“They get wound around in the bottom of that motor, and it really causes some problems,” he said. “Especially at the Main Street lift station.”

Wipes don’t cause as severe a situation there as they do in Chazy, he said, thanks in large part to the “Muffin Monster” that sits in the wastewater plant.

“It’s built to chew up the larger, harder stuff,” Martin said. “But sometimes the wipes float through.”

The village hasn’t yet asked users to stop flushing the cloths, he said, but would likely include a notice in the next sewer bill.


City of Plattsburgh Department of Public Works Crew Supervisor Jim Welch is pleased to report only isolated incidents of cleansing-cloth issues.

Unlike Chazy’s, the wastewater system depends on gravity to carry the sewage to the control plant at lake level, he explained, so it doesn’t need many lift stations.

“We do have a couple of stations with grinder pumps,” he said. “These pumps don’t take too well to something that doesn’t grind up very well.”

When it happens, he said, “it generates a lot of work” making repairs.

”In the past, we’ve had a few facilities that have had issues with flushable wipes or surgical gloves,” Welch noted. “It’s usually rectified rather quickly.”

And his department traces the culprit materials back to the source, letting that customer know that such items should not be flushed.

The city has mechanical bar screens at the filtration plant that work well, Welch said.

“They gather anything that might be an issue.”


The Village of Saranac Lake also relies on that technology, Chief Water and Sewer Superintendent Kevin Pratt said.

It has rails 3/8 of an inch apart, so not much gets through.

“Sensors tell when it’s plugged up,” he said. 

An automatic rake goes to work then, scraping the accumulation into a hopper.

“Then it’s compressed and put into a trailer.”

Saranac Lake has three lift stations, none of which have screens.

Even so, wipes haven’t proved a problem, Pratt said.


His village is among the fortunate ones.

A story this week in the Washington Post said the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission shelled out $1 million-plus on equipment to shred the wipes.

In Bemus Point, N.Y. a few months ago, the Post said, the situation escalated so much that the sewer department installed basket strainers in sections of pipe that led to a pump that had frequently seized up.

Then they sent letters and even visited those residents, begging them to seize flushing the cleansing cloths.


Cottonelle Fresh Flushable Wipes claim, on the package, to “break up like toilet paper.” Charmin Freshmates are touted as “Septic Safe.” And Scott Flushable Wipes are, the maker says, “Safe for sewer and septic.”

Consumer Reports recently put those three products to a disintegration test, swirling each in a kind of grinder that, first, makes short work of toilet paper — in about 8 seconds.

The wipes, however, remained intact after 30 minutes, when the tester gave up.

Manufacturers insist wipes labeled flushable aren’t the problem, pointing instead to items like paper towels, feminine hygiene products and baby wipes clearly marked as non-flushable.

Champlain’s mayor had something to say about that.

“That’s a bit of false advertising,” Martin said.

Email Suzanne Moore