It’s no flushing matter

Experts debate the benefits of bathroom wipes

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published April 26, 2017

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METRO DETROIT — Um, how do we say this delicately?

Keep those darn flushable wipes away from your delicates and out of your toilet.

It might seem harsh, but local water commissioners are cracking down on the use of the flushable wipes that are clogging up local sewage pipes and racking up big money in cleanup costs for counties.

 Last week, Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner Jim Nash enlisted the help of entertainer Rickie Barkoff, also known as Lady T Tempest, to create a public service announcement warning residents about flushable wipes — and how they’re not really that flushable at all.

“We created this public service announcement because the problem with these wipes damaging our wastewater systems is real,” said Nash in an email. “They don’t dissolve or disintegrate. They are costing the good folks who pay higher rates for sewer service dearly.”

Candice Miller, the new public works commissioner for Macomb County, has had her hands full this year with the massive collapse of a sewer interceptor in Fraser. But that trouble has been compounded by a problem she called “ragging.”

“Overnight, our crew was having to clean out our screens every one to two hours because of all this ragging. Our message is simple: Wipes clog pipes,” Miller said in a press release earlier this month. “This is a national problem. These products are called ‘flushable,’ but they really are not. We aren’t saying don’t use them. Go ahead and use them, but throw them in the garbage. Only toilet paper is made to be flushed.”

So it’s definitely clear that the flushable wipes — besides costing quite a bit more than regular toilet paper per use — make things tougher for public works staff. But are they even worth it?

Maybe not. 

According to a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, water chlorination and treatment was one of the 10 greatest public health achievements of the 20th century. Cleaning up water supplies and promoting hand washing helped contribute to a major decline in diseases like cholera and typhoid fever — illnesses commonly linked to waste. Compared to 1920, when there were about 33.8 cases of those diseases per 100,000 people, 2006 only saw 0.1 cases per 100,000 people, most of which were reported by international travelers.

In a Women’s Health magazine article from 2015, Dr. Holly Phillips explained that there is “no medical advantage” to cleaning up with adult wipes as opposed to plain old toilet paper. And in fact, if you have skin sensitivities, the alcohol, aloe or other additives found in some varieties of flushable wipes could actually be damaging below the belt. 

Dr. Jonathan Zaidan, of Women’s Excellence, a full-service women’s health care practice in Birmingham and northern Oakland County, though, thinks the wipes could be useful to certain demographics.

“I think it’s just a convenience thing,” said Zaidan. “But for an older woman, for instance, you probably don’t realize how difficult something can be until your mobility is compromised, and that convenience is actually a big deal.”

He explained that while many of us could get relatively clean down there with just the use of regular toilet paper, the job could be tougher for older generations. For seniors, wipes could be the difference between a clean seat and an increased risk of urinary tract infections or other ailments.

With growing pressure from the public, there’s a chance those wipes could be formulated in the future to be more eco-friendly. 

Until then, sewer workers around the globe would humbly ask that you pitch those wipes in the trash instead of the toilet. 

To see the humorous PSA from the Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner’s Office, visit oakgov.com/water.

 

Staff Writer Julie Snyder contributed to this report.

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