“Fatberg” Liability: New York Dentist Sues Companies Over Flushable Wipes That He Alleges Are Not Flushable

250px-Wet_wipeThere is an interesting products liability lawsuit by a New York dentist, Dr. Joseph Kurtz, 35, against manufacturers of flushable wipes. The wipes have been blamed for massive “fatberg” formations in municipal sewer systems and Dr. Kurtz says that he is out $600 in plumbing bills at this New York and New Jersey homes due to the alleged misrepresentation. He is now seeking unspecified damages in the suit in Brooklyn against Kimberly-Clark Corp. and Costco Wholesale Corp.


Kurtz says that the Flushable wipes are not flushable but clogable. He is seeking class action status for all those who have faced the Fatberg.

3214wipesWhat makes the case interesting is the position of officials with the Plainfield Area Regional Sewerage Authority in New Jersey and New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection. The officials blame the flushable wipes on a breakdown of their equipment. They are asking residents to put the wipes in the trash rather than the toilet — a tall order given the use of the wipes by parents.

It could come down to the meaning of “flushable.” The companies could claim that the sheets are fully flushable but that clogs can form with the addition of other sources. That could lead to a comparison of toilet paper to wipes in contributing to clogs.

The term “Fatberg” after officials last summer had to blast a 15-ton, bus-sized mass of wipes and congealed grease — dubbed “fatberg” in the city’s sewer system last summer. Officials blame the problem on the “spunlace” used in wipes. New York reportedly spends $18 million a year collecting and discarding such debris at its plants.

I could not find an video of a Dr. Kurtz but I did find video of a Col. Kurtz presumably describing the “Fatberg” phenomenon:

15 thoughts on ““Fatberg” Liability: New York Dentist Sues Companies Over Flushable Wipes That He Alleges Are Not Flushable”

  1. If you depose the plumber he will probably say that wifeypoo of the plaintiff had thrown some tampons in there too.

  2. Actually there are “flushability” standards that have been jointly developed by industry representatives in the US and the EU. Kimberly-Clark, P&G, and numerous other wipes manufacturers worked on these standards for more than a decade. As far as industry is concerned, the real problem here is that some products are flushable (i.e., they quickly decompose in water without clogging sewer lines) but other products aren’t and consumers don’t pay attention to which is which. Industry groups, in fact, are terrified that these sewer clogs will lead to product bans at the end of the day and they want clear “do not flush” labels for product that does not meet their flushability standards.

  3. traveling limey,
    It is not a matter of whether they will go down the toilet when flushed. It’s what happens AFTERWARDS that counts. And as my experience with dental floss showed, this stuff can create impenetrable wads of material inside the sewer lines wherever there is a chance for sediment to form, such as at a pipe junction.

  4. A toilet sits there and sometimes has things aimed at it but it speaks for itself. Two purposes, poop and pee. A little toilet paper. No cover charge any time. The rest of the trash goes in the garbage can, bag or out the window if in New York.

  5. Flushable or not is pretty cut & dried. In the USA with any toilet built to code a certain amount, a reasonable amount of material such as soft toilet tissue should flush & not clog. If wipes are called flushable they must do the same. The video is not available in the country I’m in now, the Philippines, but you also have to be careful here where the plumbing is more like Mexican standards & sometimes won’t take paper of any kind. He should win & be thanked for putting ethics in on a manufacturer.

  6. This is not the only product that causes major problems. I know several people who work for the city wastewater treatment plant and they tell me cigarette filters are virtually indestructible. It is common practice for smokers to flip a butt into the toilet and flush. While it may reduce in-home fire risk of starting a blaze in wastebaskets, throwing butts in the toilet clogs up the wastewater treatment system.

    Another product I found out about the hard way is dental floss. The sewer leading from our house to the street clogged up. Called Roto-Rooter and they pulled out a huge wad of dental floss. It was a hundred dollar lesson I will not soon forget. The Roto-Rooter guys said they see this all the time. Like cigarette filters, dental floss is indestructible. It will probably still be around when the pyramids are nothing but piles of dust.

  7. Standard corporate policy of introducing the product and then see if it does any damage. They do state that the product is flushable, but they don’t state it won’t clog your plumbing, or it’s biodegradable, or it’s safe for sewer systems. It’s just flushable. Once it exits the bowl, who knows and who cares…… And this is a problem for our northern friends as well:

    OTTAWA – They’re billed as a fresh, clean alternative to toilet paper – but waste-water utilities across Canada say personal wipes are creating putrid sewage clogs that are costing Canadian ratepayers at least $250 million a year. http://globalnews.ca/news/972847/back-up-claims-of-flushable-wipes-utilities-in-canada-tell-manufacturers/

    –The corporate speak is somewhat remarkable too:

    “Kimberly-Clark is committed to working with the waste-water community to ensure that sewage systems work properly and to educate consumers about what is safe to flush and what isn’t,” he said in an interview from the company’s headquarters in Dallas.

    “But if we label something safe to flush, we stand by that. We put these products through a litany of industry tests. … I certainly know our products perform well in lab tests and field tests to ensure flushability.”

    As you can see, Kimberly-Clark’s talking head said nothing of the wipes being safe for sewers, safe for plumbing or biodegradable. They are simply flushable. He actually backhandedly blames the sewage systems for not working properly.

    Time to hold these corps accountable for the damage they cause…..

  8. Its funny but its not. Of course the corporations involved will blame every thing else and insist that the burden of proof in this case must really be beyond a reasonable doubt but it is pretty clear that until the public was convinced that it must used thes things to be “clean”, this problem did not exist, at least not on this scale. I hope the dentist wins.

  9. Good thing the Authorities in NYC stopped the fatberg menace. Other cities weren’t so lucky……

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