Wet Wipes-A Threat?

It has become a matter of media attention lately just how you clean your toosh! Using wet wipes has created newer monsters that have cost some cities millions of dollars to repair. The early 1970’s began the demand for wet wipes that your mom or grandma might have carried in her purse in the 50’s and 60’s that were alcohol-soaked towelettes. They then were promoted for adult hygiene, dusting and makeup removal, plus much more.

Some people have switched from toilet paper to the fragrant wet wipes to use for their nether regions. They are advertised as biodegradable and flushable, making them more convenient to use on the toilet. But, the congealed lumps of fat-soaked sanitary items known as “fatbergs” being pulled from residential and city sewer lines, make it clear that these bits of material are not degrading after flushing. Just because they are flushable does not make them biodegradable. They are a nonwoven material and often made from a combination of wood pulp, polyester, viscose and/or cotton. After being tangled under high-pressure water, heat or air, and then saturated with a combination of chemicals to clean, moisturize, scent, they finally seal the product.

Many of the wipes contain flexible plastics that are not biodegradable. If the product is indeed “flushable” at least 25% of the wipe will break into smaller pieces within three hours while being agitated in water. According to the District of Columbia, the wipes can reach a pump within just a couple of minutes, not three hours. Most sewers are primarily using gravity, so the wipes are not being agitated within the sewer as they are in the test.

Wet wipes sales have nearly tripled in the past decade and the sales are not decreasing. It is expected that the sales will reach $2.9 billion by 2018, which will increase the potential risk to homeowners and city sewer systems for damage and flooding.

An enormous 15-ton glob of congealed fats and wipes the size of a city bus damaged sewer pipes in London in 2013. Sewer workers spent 3 weeks to clear the area and prevent massive flooding. There were 40,000 blockages a year caused by fat and sanitary wipes. These same problems are happening across the U.S. and cities are beginning to take action in an attempt to reduce the damage to their pipes. There is even a “No Wipes Down the Pipes” campaign in Beloit, Wisconsin. A class action suit against Proctor & Gamble, Kimberly Clark and four other manufacturers was filed by Wyoming, Minnesota citing damage to their sewers and other municipalities across the nation. The judge ruled they could videotape and photograph the evidence and then dispose of it after seven days. None of the four leading wipes passed the agitation test set by the industry to determine flushability of the product.

Damage also extends to the environment when wipes don’t appear to be degraded or sifted from sewage before they make their way onto the beaches of the U.K. Where plastics are involved, turtles and other marine life often mistake plastic bags for jellyfish and once in their digestive tract, it doesn’t move and the animal dies of starvation. Wipes have a similar effect.

Wipes may feel good and smell good, but they are really infused with chemicals and fragrances that may damage your skin and negatively impact your health. People experiencing irritation around their anus continue to use the wipes under the mistaken idea they will help to clear the condition. They are in actuality, a common cause of allergy. Toilet paper may not be the answer either. It does disintegrate easily once flushed but the environmental impact of production may leave an indelible and damaging imprint. An affordable and ideal replacement is the bidet. They are already commonly used in European countries, as refreshing as a wet wipe and gentler than paper. The bidet is growing in popularity in North America, according to Kohler, who is the largest manufacturer of bidets in the U.S.

-Dr Fredda Branyon

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