Increasingly popular bathroom wipes, those pre-moistened towelettes that are often advertised as flushable are being blamed for creating clogs and backups in sewer systems around the nation.

Wastewater authorities say wipes may go down the toilet, but even many labeled flushable aren’t breaking down, as they course through the sewer system.  That’s costing some municipalities millions of dollars to dispatch crews to unclog pipes and pumps and to replace and upgrade machinery.

A sewer district in western New York was dispatching crews at least once a week to clear a grinder pump that would seize up trying to shred the fibrous wipes.  The problem got so bad in the community this summer, that the sewer officials set up, basket strainer traps, in sections of pipe leading to an often clogged pump in an attempt to figure out, which households the wipes were coming from.  They then mailed letters and then pleaded in person for residents to stop flushing them.

The National Association of Clean Water Agencies, which represents 300 wastewater agencies, says it has been hearing complaints about wipes from sewer systems big and small for about the last four years.

That roughly coincides with the ramped-up marketing of the “flushable cleansing cloths” as a cleaner, fresher option than dry toilet paper alone.  A trade group says wipes are a $6 billion-a-year industry, with sales of consumer wipes increasing nearly 5 percent a year since 2007 and expected to grow at a rate of 6 percent annually for the next five years.

Manufacturers insist wipes labeled flushable aren’t the problem, pointing instead to baby and other cleaning wipes marked as non-flushable that are often being used by adults.  They say 90%, in fact, are items that are not supposed to be flushed, like paper towels, tissues, feminine hygiene products, and baby wipes.”

Wastewater officials agree that wipes, many of which are made from plastic, aren’t the only culprits, but say their problems have escalated with the increase in the use of these wipes nation wide.

Several communities, across the nation reported huge costs to unplug routine clogging and, in some cases, even higher costs to replace damaged sewer pumps.  All of these costs go directly to the consumer, in higher sewer bills, and several large cities reported additional expenses exceeding $ 1 million dollars over the past 5 years.

The problem got worldwide attention in July when London sewer officials reported removing a 15-ton “bus-sized lump” of wrongly flushed grease and wet wipes, dubbed the “fatberg.”

The complaints have prompted a renewed look at solving the problem.  I guess the simple answer can be found in what the sewer system is meant to get rid of, and that is…pee, poop and toilet paper only!