Charleston, South Carolina’s public works commissioners have filed a proposed class action over Costco, CVS, Walmart and other major retailers’ sale of wipes described as “flushable,” alleging the products have “wreak[ed] havoc on sewers and sewage treatment facilities worldwide.”
The plaintiff, who provides public water and wastewater services to the Greater Charleston area, alleges the purportedly safe and/or biodegradable flushable wipes sold by the who’s-who of defendants are to blame for “countless” sewer line clogs and extensive property and environmental damage.
While toilet paper has historically been considered the “benchmark for flushability” in that it begins to break apart upon contact with water—and therefore can pass through sewer and septic systems without issue—so-called flushable wipes, on the other hand,do not perform as advertised, the 61-page lawsuit claims.
“As a result, they do not disintegrate as effectively as toilet paper and can comingle to cause clogs and treatment problems, making them costly and difficult to manually remove,” the case, filed in South Carolina federal court, says. “Flushable wipes should not be labeled as ‘flushable’ or safe for sewer or septic systems.”
Notwithstanding the myriad problems associated with flushable wipes, the defendants—Costco Wholesale Corporation, CVS Health Corporation, Kimberly-Clark Corporation, The Procter & Gamble Company, Target Corporation, Walgreens Boots Alliance and Walmart—continue to “push a contradictory message,” namely that the products are safe to be flushed down the toilet, the lawsuit alleges.
“Despite knowledge of the massive damage and costs caused by Flushable Wipes, Defendants continue to falsely market, advertise, label, and/or sell Flushable Wipes as suitable for flushing, intending for consumers to use the product accordingly and for the product to continue to enter Plaintiff’s and other STP Operators’ sewer and septic systems,” the complaint says.
Without the defendants’ “actions and marketing tactics,” flushable wipes would not be as big of a problem as they have become, the case asserts, arguing that proposed class members—entities that own and/or operate sewage or wastewater conveyance and treatment systems—will continue to face damage to pump stations, lift stations, sewer lines and/or wastewater treatment plants as long as the retailers continue to claim the wipes are “flushable.”
“Flushable Wipes will continue to create excessive maintenance and repair-related expenses borne by STP operators, and ultimately, the public,” the case stresses. “Wet wipes are costing an estimated ‘billions of dollars a year in worldwide maintenance’ and there is no end in sight.”
At least two of the retailer defendants told Law360 in respective statements that the flushable wipes found on store shelves work as represented.
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