A proposed class action filed this week claims CVS-branded “flushable” wipes do not disintegrate in the way consumers would expect and can cause clogs, flooding and other plumbing problems despite representations that the wipes are “safe” for sewer and septic systems.
According to the case filed against CVS Health Corporation and Nice-Pak Products, Inc., which manufactures the wipes, consumers would not have bought the CVS Health Flushable Cleansing Wipes and CVS Health Maximum Strength Formula Medicated Wipes – or would have paid much less for them – had they known the defendants’ claims were false and misleading.
No ‘Flushable’ Wipes Are Truly Flushable, Lawsuit Claims
The 37-page case begins by arguing that all “flushable” wipes are not actually flushable “under any relevant definition or standard.”
While the wipes may flush down the toilet without issue, they don’t disintegrate like toilet paper and can cause clogging and other problems in a home’s plumbing system or later on in the sewer or septic system, the suit says. According to the case, “flushable” wipes frequently arrive nearly or completely intact at pump stations and downstream treatment facilities, causing myriad problems and millions of dollars in damage.
“[The National Association of Clean Water Agencies] estimated that wipes cause approximately $441 million per year in additional operating costs in the collection systems of clean water utilities in the U.S. and impose over $30,000 in additional collection system operating costs on the average utility per year,” the complaint reads, adding that clogs caused by flushable wipes can damage sewage equipment and often must be removed by hand.
CVS “flushable” wipes are no exception, the lawsuit alleges. Although the defendants claim on packaging that the wipes are not only “flushable,” but “safe” for “sewer and septic systems,” these claims are simply not true, according to the case.
Though industry definitions of the term “flushable” vary, they all agree that in order for a wipe to be considered “flushable,” it must break apart in a reasonable amount of time to avoid clogging household and municipal sewage lines, septic systems, and other standard wastewater equipment, the lawsuit avers. According to the suit, CVS flushable wipes do not meet any of these definitions given the wipes do not break down or disintegrate after being flushed down the toilet.
“Regardless of which precise definition is used, which are all synonymous from the perspective of a reasonable consumer, CVS Flushable Products do not meet the definition and their products should not be labeled as flushable,” the complaint scathes.
According to the case, the defendants back up their claims by insisting that their flushable wipes meet Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry (INDA) guidelines. INDA guidelines, however, do not actually support the flushable claims on the CVS wipes’ packaging, the suit argues.
Moreover, the lawsuit claims that INDA was formed and funded by manufacturers and retailers of “flushable” products and that its guidelines are therefore “fundamentally flawed,” according to the case. In fact, the suit says, the guidelines do not address dispersibility at all, fail to replicate real world conditions, exclude independent input from the wastewater community and other members of the industry, and allow “flushable” products to fail one or more tests with no consequences.
‘Flushable’ Wipes Damage Homes and Wallets, Plaintiff Alleges
The plaintiff in the case, a Jericho, New York resident, says he experienced a clog in his plumbing system after purchasing and using CVS flushable wipes for years.
“In particular, Plaintiff’s home plumbing system backed up in March 2020, and Plaintiff had to employ the help of professional plumbers to remove the clog, who confirmed that CVS Flushable Wipes caused the damage,” the complaint reads. “At no point did Plaintiff flush any products down his toilets other than human waste, toilet paper, and the CVS Flushable Wipes.”
In addition to plumbing costs, the plaintiff says he also sustained damage from the resulting flooding, which necessitated the removal of flooring in several rooms.
Even further, the case claims the plaintiff overpaid for the CVS flushable wipes given they were not actually safe to flush down toilets.
The plaintiff claims he would never have purchased the wipes if it weren’t for the defendants’ “false and misleading” labeling and advertising.
FTC Enforcement Action Against Nice-Pak
In May 2015, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) entered into a consent order with Nice-Pak over the company’s labeling of its flushable wipes, including its private label CVS flushable wipes, according to the case.
The order stemmed from an FTC complaint that alleged Nice-Pak “lacked adequate substantiation” for the claims that its wipes are safe to flush. More specifically, the agency noted that non-woven fabrics such as those used in flushable wipes “do not break down in water in a reasonably short amount of time” and can clog plumbing systems and downstream treatment facilities after being flushed.
Under the consent order, Nice-Pak was prohibited from making claims that its products were flushable, safe for sewer and septic systems, break apart after flushing, and would not clog household plumbing systems, among similar representations—unless the company could back up its claims with “competent and reliable evidence.”
Who Is the Lawsuit Looking to Cover?
The proposed class action looks to cover anyone who purchased CVS flushable wipes in the U.S., or specifically in New York, since 2012.
How Do I Join the Lawsuit?
There’s typically nothing you need to do to join a class action lawsuit when it’s first filed. If the case moves forward and settles, anyone affected should then have an opportunity to claim whatever compensation the court deems just.
In the meantime, you can get class action news and updates sent straight to your inbox by signing up for ClassAction.org’s newsletter here.