The Gross Factor

Proof the pandemic is not over yet. Covid-19 cases have brought India to a standstill. World-wide the death toll continues to rise. More than three-point-nine million people have died from Covid. Here in the USA, more than 571-thousand deaths have been reported.

Steps have been taken to curb the outbreak. More and more of us are getting vaccinated. In the U.S., 41.8 percent of our total population has received at least one vaccine. But this historic pandemic continues to astound. Most of us will tell our grandchildren about the awful days when we were locked away, allowed out only if we were masked. Each one of us will have a special anecdote, an individual tale that we’ll pass on. The latest one – the gross factor – truly boggles the mind.

The Washington Post is reporting that so many flushed wipes are being used and flushed that pipes are being clogged and sewage is ending up in homes. Of course, there is a C.Y.A. factor involved too. “Cover your ass” in this instance is not a pun or a weak attempt at humor; it is part of the story. CYA can be a synonym for lawsuits. They are involved too.

Ok, here are the facts: The flushable labels on pre-moistened wipes used by nursing home staffs, potty training toddlers and people who shun toilet paper for various reasons, are not quite true to their word, the labels, that is. The wipes do not flush.

Utility officials say they turn into ropy wads either in a home’s sewer pipe or miles down the line. At that point, these wads congeal with grease and other cooking fats, sent down drains improperly too. The result: “fatbergs.” These “fatbergs” block pumps and pipes and send sewage back into basements or the sewage overflows into streams. This problem has forced several clean water agencies to double their “wipes work” during the pandemic.

Why should we care? Cynthia Finley, director of regulatory affairs for the National Association of Clean Water Agencies, says the cost of “wipes work” is passed onto us, the consumer.

A Charleston, South Carolina utility had to spend an addition $110,000 dollars to clear the “fatbergs.” As a result, the water system in that town filed a federal lawsuit against Costco, Walmart, CVS and four other companies that manufacture or sell wipes labeled “flushable.” The lawsuit seeks to prohibit wipes from being marketed as flushable until they really are. In other words, manufacture wipes capable of being broken down in the sewage system like toilet paper. Then a label that reads “flushable” will be truthful.

Officials in the non-woven fabrics industry, a fancy name for wipes, claim their products have gotten a bad rap. It is the consumer’s fault they argue. We are flushing baby wipes, sanitizing wipes and other junk not meant for toilets down the commode. Seriously, even surgical masks are being flushed. And, yes, there was a toilet paper shortage during the pandemic, which could have added to the clog problem, but……. The non-woven fabrics officials are supporting state legislation that would require Do Not Flush labels.

Which begs the question: Would just labeling their products be an admission of guilt, putting the companies in the grease, or, worse yet, in deep s—t?

Both the utility officials and the non-woven fabrics officials apparently assume that consumers, programmed since the beginning of the pandemic to get rid of potential viral microbes a.s.a.p., will take a second to read the new labels. We shall see.

Fats and grease are not labeled. My Mama taught me not to put grease down the drain, but other Mamas might have thought that’s where grease belonged.

Make no mistake: This is a serious problem. Back to Charleston: in 2018, divers had to swim down 90 feet through raw sewage into a dark wet well to pull a 12-foot-long mass of wipes from three of that town’s pumps. Baker Mordecai, director of that town’s wastewater collection system, recalled the incident: “The gross factor definitely caught people’s attention.” Since then, things have gotten much, much worse.

The gross factor caught my attention. As far as I am concerned, this pandemic cannot end soon enough. The past year has been, of course, tragic, and painful, but also flat weird.

For the record, there is word on how many of those Charleston divers turned in their resignations the following morning.

Leave a Comment