Towelettes Don't Break Down, Get Tangled Up In Pipes

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Household wipes may be convenient, but they’re costing taxpayers big bucks.

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People use wipes for everything — from cleaning to removing make up. But as CBS 2’s Maurice Dubois reported, the towelettes may be too strong, causing major problems for homeowners and cities across the country.

“They wrap up inside the pumps,” said Rob Villee, executive director of the Plainfield Area Regional Sewage Authority in New Jersey. “They form a blockage, and so instead of pumping the sewage, it starts to back up.”

Experts say that not only are most wipes not biodegradable, they also don’t break down in sewage systems.

Villee tested many of the towelettes on the market today, doing a demonstration for Dubois.

Wipes regularly get caught and tangled in sewer pipes. Then at wastewater treatment plants, where water gets cleaned and recycled back into the system, the wipes are removed.

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“All told, millions and millions of dollars in extra costs,” said Carter Strickland, commissioner of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection.

“In the last few years, we’ve seen companies market wipes as so called ‘flushable,'” Strickland said while at the city’s largest wastewater plant in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. “They make it through your toilet and your pipes without clogging them. … (Then) they end up here.”

Even the wipes industry itself acknowledges there are problems. The organization that represents the manufacturers is also calling for better labeling on packages.

But for now, a change in behavior may be the best way to avoid plumbing problems..

“Throw the wipes in the garbage can,” Villee recommended.

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