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Congress wants wipe warnings

  • 18 June 2024
  • ckearns


Sanitary products are causing problems in waste water systems. House votes to add warning labels

WASHINGTON — Watch out, fatbergs! Congress is on to you.

Legislation the House passed Tuesday would require the Federal Trade Commission, an independent agency that regulates consumer affairs, to write and enforce new rules to require labels on packages of sanitary wipes that clog sewer systems nationwide.

Under the bill, which must pass the Senate before heading to the president’s desk, non-disposable wipes must be “clearly and conspicuously” marked with labeling and a symbol that says “Do Not Flush.”

The bill (HR 2964) would apply to a variety of wipes, including baby wipes, bathroom wipes, household cleaning or disinfecting wipes and personal care wipes.

Human-made items like wipes, dental floss, sanitary pads, tampons, plastic bags, condoms and diapers wreak havoc on the country’s water systems, often congealing into gelatinous masses called “fatbergs” that can stretch hundreds of feet.

Oils, grease and fat serve as glue to meld everything together.

Dislodging and ultimately clearing out these blobs can take workers weeks of underground work, blasting away with pressure hoses.

“The improper disposal of non-flushable wipes can damage critical plumbing and wastewater infrastructure and lead to environmental contamination and pollution,” Rep. Frank Pallone (D-6th) said during floor debate on the bill. “Requiring ‘Do Not Flush’ labels on the packaging of non-flushable wipes would help protect plumping and cut environmental pollution,” Pallone said.

Wipes alone cost water utilities in the U.S. about $441 million annually, according to an analysis the National Association of Clean Water Agencies, an industry group, completed in 2020.

The cost alone in Michigan is $18 million every year, said Rep. Lisa McClain, a Republican from Michigan and the bill’s lead sponsor.

Lawmakers voted 351-56 to pass the bill. Every New Jersey member voted for it except Reps. Josh Gottheimer and Bonnie Watson Coleman, both Democrats.

Last week, Watson Coleman said she had been diagnosed with a painful lower back condition and would be out of Washington for weeks to recover.

Carrying out the bill would cost the FTC $4 million, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. The commission would also likely fine companies that violate the labeling rules — money that would be returned to the federal treasury.

Wipes sold in round canisters, “flexible film” packages, rigid tubs and bulk packages are covered under the bill.

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