With its sewer system under siege, tallying millions of dollars in equipment damage across its underground maze, New York City is confronting a menace that has gummed the gears of plumbing networks around the world: the common wet wipe.
In recent years, the intersection of evolving hygienic sensibilities and aggressive industry marketing has fueled the productâ€™s rise. Wet wipes, long used for baby care, have grown popular with adults.
Some of the products are branded as â€œflushableâ€ â€” a characterization contested by wastewater officials and plaintiffs bringing class-action lawsuits against wipes manufacturers for upending their plumbing.
Often, the wipes combine with other materials, like congealed grease, to create a sort of superknot. â€œTheyâ€™re really indestructible,â€ said Vincent Sapienza, a deputy commissioner for the cityâ€™s Department of Environmental Protection. â€œI guess thatâ€™s the purpose.â€
The city has spent more than $18 million in the past five years on wipe-related equipment problems, officials said. The volume of materials extracted from screening machines at the cityâ€™s wastewater treatment plants has more than doubled since 2008, an increase attributed largely to the wipes.