Cottonelle Wipes Maker Faces Class Action After Recall

BROOKLYN (CN) — Customers who say that now-recalled bathroom wipes made them “violently ill” dropped a class action lawsuit on the wipes’ manufacturer Thursday. 

Last month, Cottonelle wipes maker Kimberly-Clark recalled products made between February and September of this year. The wipes were contaminated with bacteria that can irritate skin and cause infections. 

According to the company, the damage to users was mild. 

“At this time there is a low rate of non-serious complaints, such as irritation and minor infection, reported from the affected wipes,” reads a statement on the Cottonelle website. 

The customers suing the company, however, say the wipes made them seriously sick. They now bring product liability and false advertising claims under New York’s General Business Law. 

Dawn Rothfeld, the named plaintiff in the case, says she suffered from urinary tract infections and bladder issues, required antibiotics and a bladder ultrasound. 

The complaint alleges that thousands of other women reported UTIs after using the wipes. 

“It’s ruined my life,” reads one comment posted on social media, according to the complaint, which says it represents New Yorkers from across the state. 

Others describe “daily diarrhea for well over a month” and “an insanely overwhelmingly frustrating itch that will absolutely not go away unless I sit on the business end of a belt sander.” 

One account says their illness from the wipes caused “a summer of misery, nonstop vomiting and diarrhea.” 

The 18-page complaint, filed in New York’s Eastern District, says Kimberly-Clark’s lack of proper safeguards allowed the contamination to continue for seven months, “despite ample warnings that something was wrong with the Cottonelle Wipes.” 

Throughout the period that now-recalled wipes were manufactured, some had dark brown spots on the surface and smelled like mildew, the suit claims, yet the company only began to test for the bacteria after customers came forward. 

When Kimberly-Clark did recall the wipes on Oct. 9, its handling was “inadequate, ineffective, and seemingly insincere,” the complaint argues, and downplayed the true health risks of the bacterial contamination, saying the bacteria “naturally occurs” and is only risky to those with weakened immune systems. 

The strain of bacteria, Pluralibacter gergoviae, has been found in soil, water and sewage. It also shows up in cosmetics, shampoo and baby wipes

The pathogen is often resistant to antibiotics, which makes it more difficult to treat. 

The FDA has issued a handful of warning letters to cosmetic companies whose products contained Pluralibacter gergoviae, among other bacterial strains. 

Bathroom wipes, specifically those advertised as flushable, have also been under scrutiny for clogging up New York City’s plumbing. The wipes contribute to “fatbergs,” or masses of grease and debris that the city’s Department of Environmental Protection says are wrecking pipes. 

“When a product is labeled ‘flushable,’ it generally means that it will clear your toilet bowl,” the city’s DEP website explains. “It does not mean it will definitely clear your pipes or break down in the sewer system or at a wastewater treatment plant. Water and wastewater utilities around the world have found a significant increase of wipes in their sewer pipes and at their plants.”

Lawsuits against companies selling “flushable” wipes have shown up for years: in San Francisco, Baltimore and the same district in Brooklyn that will now hear the contaminated wipe suit. 

Attorneys for the wipe companies have called the complaints “fundamentally flawed” and suggested plaintiffs will continue to “try the cases until they get a win.” 

As for the latest bathroom wipes suit in Brooklyn, contaminated wipe users are asking the court for statutory damages of $500 per unit purchased, in addition to monetary damages and permanent injunctive relief against Kimberly-Clark.

Neither Kimberly-Clark nor lawyers for the plaintiffs immediately responded to emails requesting comment. 

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