Lawsuit targets what’s going down DC toilets

WASHINGTON — The District is facing a lawsuit after City Council passed legislation requiring companies make clear whether their products are safe to flush down the toilet.

At the heart of the issue are so-called adult wipes and how they are labeled. The Nonwoven Disposable Products Act passed the council unanimously on Dec. 6, 2016.

“We’re simply saying you have to say that they are not flushable unless you make them flushable,” said councilmember Mary Cheh, D-Ward 3, who drafted the law.

But in a lawsuit filed against the city last Friday in U.S. District Court, Kimberly-Clark attorneys argue the law unfairly and unwisely limits consumers’ right to choose products “that have been proven to effectively meet their needs without causing or contributing to clogs.”

It names the city, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine, D.C. Department of Energy and Environment Director Tommy Wells and the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority as defendants.

“We are not aware of any evidence that Kimberly-Clark flushable wipes caused a clog in the District or any other municipality for that matter. The evidence will show our flushable wipes meet or exceed widely accepted industry guidelines for flushability and the Federal Trade Commission’s standards on flushability,” company spokesman Bob Brand wrote in an email.

Kimberly-Clark approaches the argument there is no standard for what is flushable, referencing how its products “meet or exceed widely-accepted industry guidelines for flushability,” Kimberly-Clark’s deputy general counsel Kyle Kappes said in a YouTube video.

The company also set up a website to explain its position, called “Safe to Flush.”

D.C.’s law cites the definition of flushable based off international wastewater coalition standards. Without clear labeling, Cheh said, there is consumer confusion over what can and cannot go down the toilet.

“People will flush them down the toilet and what happens is, it clogs up the drains so severely that we spend tens of thousands of dollars a year to deal with that. So they are offloading the cost of what they’re doing onto the public through the water and sewer fees,” Cheh told WTOP.

“When you have your sewage treatment plant telling you that these are not really flushable, that they are seeing at the end use it’s causing problems … that’s really the expert I’m going to listen to because we don’t want sewage backing up into our houses,” said Anacostia Riverkeeper’s Emily Franc.

Observing the river on a daily basis, Franc said there are a lot of things in the Anacostia that should not be in a river, in part, because D.C.’s combined sewer system means the sewer lines are connected to the storm drains.

“The impact of that is we get a lot of extra stuff in our river. It’s a lot of floatables, a lot of debris and things that people put down their toilets,” Franc said.

The law is passed but is not operational until the Department of Energy and Environment issues regulations about implementation. Cheh said the law will be able to go into effect in January 2018.

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