Charleston Water System settles huge lawsuit over sewer system damage caused by non-flushable wipes

(WO) – In March 2024, Charleston Water System (CWS) announced it settled its class action lawsuit against defendant wipe manufacturers and retailers, ensuring that nearly all flushable wipes available to consumers across the country will truly be flushable and that packaging for all non-flushable wipes will clearly indicate they should not be flushed.

CWS brought suit in January 2021 against major U.S. companies seeking injunctive relief to remedy costly and ongoing damage to sewer systems and treatment facilities due in significant part to the inability of allegedly “flushable” wipes to break down, often clogging wastewater infrastructure and causing sewer overflows that damage the environment.

U.S. District Judge Richard M. Gergel of the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina approved four settlements on March 8, 2024, with the final six defendants in the CWS suit including Costco, CVS, Target, Walmart, Walgreens, and Procter & Gamble.

“When we filed this suit, only one brand of wipes were actually flushable and no product packaging offered disposal instructions that were clearly visible,” said Mark Cline, CEO at CWS. “We’ve won a very significant battle, as wipes have been public enemy number one for the entire wastewater industry since they were invented.”

Cline added, “These settlements bring significant benefits to wastewater utilities nationwide and their customers, while reinforcing these company’s commitments to being good corporate and environmental stewards. It’s a major step forward for us and the whole country in that respect.”

The settlements require the defendants to meet an international flushability standard supported by the wastewater industry, with two years of confirmatory performance testing, and significant non-flushable wipes labeling enhancements.

These settlements cover products representing an outsized share of the flushable wipes market and will help reduce the accumulation of wipes in sewage systems, the expenses incurred to address wipes-related clogs, and the time-consuming and costly preventive measures necessary to mitigate future clogging.

Cline also stated, “The final battle in the wastewater industry’s war against wipes is still to come and that involves changing human behavior. We hope consumers will follow the clear instructions on the packaging. If so, customer sewer costs would go down and the vast majority of sewer overflows nationwide would be eliminated, making our environment the big winner.”

The settlements will also provide economic benefits to rate payers, benefits to consumers in the form of product improvements and enhanced labeling, and benefits to the public by reducing the likelihood of residential plumbing clogs. The settlements also help further the global adoption of uniform flushability standards.

CWS consultants have confirmed that industry participants in several countries are investing in developing products that meet the International Water Services Flushability Group (IWSFG) flushability standards – the same standards (specifically, the PAS 3 disintegration test) defendants have agreed to meet.

“This was a mission-critical case for our client. And we knew that various, similar cases brought on behalf of sewage treatment plant operators seeking similar relief were dismissed. To secure the nationwide injunctive relief that we obtained here is an exceptional outcome, both for our client and for the class,” said Sam Rudman, counsel for CWS.

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