The Water Environment Federation (WEF) has released a new guidance document to assist water utilities in knowing their rights and understanding how they are affected by the recent court settlement between South Carolina’s Charleston Water System and Kimberly-Clark Corp’s Cottonelle Flushable Wipes.
In its latest one-page brief, WEF called the yet-to-be-finalized settlement the first industry commitment of its kind and “a positive development for the sector” if Kimberly-Clark is required to meet current International Water Services Flushability Group (IWSFG) Publicly Available Specifications (PAS) 3 Standard by May 1, 2022. Thereafter, the settlement stipulates that the water system would be required to endorse these Kimberly-Clark products as “flushable.”
The January 2021 lawsuit filed by the Charleston Water System alleged that the Cottonelle wipes were dubiously labelled “flushable” and instead “wreaked havoc” by clogging local sewer systems without adequate deterioration of the material. In 2020 alone, the utility claims that flushed wipes cost the system about $250,000 in maintenance to remove them from sewers and wastewater treatment plants.
In the spring, a court approved a landmark settlement that would see the wipes maker develop better labeling, manufacturing improvements and two years of testing, which WEF said it sees as a huge step forward for utilities in many U.S. cities that have struggled with costly clogs.
“The settlement would have no effect on claims by class members seeking money for harm caused by wipes,” WEF explained. “However, it would release all claims for injunctive relief — essentially court orders to stop a behavior — by any class member, related to any wipe product (flushable or non-flushable) currently or formerly manufactured by Kimberly-Clark.”
WEF has linked to specific stipulations of the settlement here.
Other defendants in the settlement, including Costco, CVS, Proctor & Gamble, Target, Walgreens, and Wal-Mart, have moved to have the court dismiss the case entirely, and are not part of the settlement.
While Charleston is the plaintiff, all entities that own and/or operated wastewater conveyance and treatment systems between January 6, 2018 through preliminary approval of the settlement, are considered class members. WEF noted that an upcoming notice will provide a deadline for submitting objections to the settlement.
WEF also stated that it is working to provide further educational materials about the lawsuit and the pending settlement. It encouraged class members to brush up on IWSFG PAS 3 and expect to receive more information on the standard in the near future.