Jessica Karmasek Oct. 26, 2015, 2:09pm


NEW YORK (Legal Newsline) - An Iowa city has filed a class action lawsuit against a half-dozen makers of bathroom wipes, claiming the companies’ so-called “flushable” wipes have caused damage to the city’s sewer system and a number of its buildings.

The City of Perry filed its lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York Oct. 13.

The named defendants include: Procter & Gamble Company; Kimberly-Clark Corporation; Nice-Pak Products Inc.; Professional Disposables International Inc.; Tufco Technologies Inc.; and Rockline Industries.

The companies make up the vast majority of the flushable wipes market -- most notably, Pampers, Huggies, Charmin, Cottonelle and Scott.

The city, in its 44-page complaint, seeks to recover for the harm allegedly caused by the defendant companies’ “unfair practices associated with the design, testing, manufacturing, marketing, distribution, and/or sale of allegedly flushable bathroom wipes.”

The city argues that the defendants know, and have known, about the wipes’ negative effects, yet continue to manufacture and promote them as “flushable” -- meaning they are suitable or able to be flushed down a toilet without causing harm to plumbing, sewer and septic systems.

“As the key participants in the flushable wipes market, Defendants have had access to a plethora of information about the harm their wipes cause to plumbing systems,” attorneys for Perry wrote.

The city contends that contrary to the defendants’ representations, their so-called “flushable” wipes do not degrade after flushing.

“Rather, the flushable wipes remain intact long enough to pass through private wastewater drain pipes into the municipal sewer line causing clogs and other issues for municipal and county sewer systems, wastewater treatment plants and public buildings, resulting in thousands, if not millions, of dollars in damages,” the city wrote.

According to its complaint, the city -- located in central Iowa, with a population of more than 7,000 -- has incurred a great deal of expenses associated with the removal of flushable wipes from its lift stations. The lift stations, of which Perry is the owner and operator of two, pump its wastewater to a treatment facility.

The city has been forced to repeatedly clean the lift stations and fix mechanical damage.

Perry, which oversees and is responsible for its sewer lines, also contends the wipes have repeatedly clogged its sewer lines and the city has had to “expend significant resources” cleaning out the lines.

In addition, various city-owned buildings have experienced plumbing problems associated with the use of the wipes. The city pointed to a pipe in the bathroom of the Perry Public Library that was clogged by patrons who flushed the wipes down a toilet.

“In order to function properly, flushable wipes must hold up under the pressure of scrubbing after being soaked in water and propylene glycol lotion for an extended period of time,” the city wrote. “The ability of a wipe to hold together when subjected to water is referred to as its ‘wet strength.’

“In order to maintain ‘wet strength,’ and despite the Defendants’ claims otherwise, flushable wipes do not degrade after flushing. Rather, once in the sewer system, they ultimately wrap around structures within the system, such as filters or pumps, creating clogs and back-ups. In order to clear the clogs, the systems need to be shut down and the wipes manually removed.”

The city continued, “Plaintiff believes that if the flushable wipes were designed to degrade, similar to traditional toilet paper, the sewer industry would no longer be faced with the rapid spike in operating and repair expenses caused directly by the alleged flushable wipes.”

Perry seeks an order designating it as the named representative and designating attorneys with Cuneo Gilbert & LaDuca LLP, Audet & Partners LLP and Hudson Mallaney Shindler & Anderson PC as class counsel.

It also wants a declaration that the defendants’ flushable wipes do not degrade and are not sewer safe; an order enjoining the companies from further advertising, sale or distribution of the flushable wipes; an order requiring the companies to establish a fund to compensate the city and the class for the cost associated with ongoing clean-up and removal of the wipes from their sewer systems; damages; an award of attorneys’ fees and costs; pre-judgment and post-judgment interest; and leave to amend the complaint.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

Organizations in this Story

Cuneo Gilbert & LaDuca
507 C Street Northeast
Washington, DC 20002

Audet & Partners LLP
711 Van Ness Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94102

Hudson Mallaney Shindler & Anderson, P.C.
5015 Grand Ridge Drive
West Des Moines, IA 50265

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