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HIGH FLOW: These "antiques" are prized

Time Magazine, July 1, 1996

Toilet Wars

Big flushers circumvent new environmental laws

The homeowner, (we'll call him Bob) was a good, law-abiding citizen. But he had a big mess on his hands or rather, all over his floor. According to federal regulations that took effect a few years ago, Bob had to install a "low-flow" toilet in the New York City bathroom he was remodeling. It was a fine idea, in theory. A low-flow toilet cuts down on water bills and helps save the environment by reducing the amount of water in each flush. But the first time Bob used his, the toilet's flushing action was scarcely strong enough to swallow a wadded-up tissue - never mind more organic waste. The thing backed up so often that Bob finally tore out his environmentally correct bowl and replaced it with an outlaw model he found in a warehouse 300 miles away. "It was," says Bob, "a draining experience."

But hardly unique. Thousands of frustrated flushers have joined what is turning into a low-flow toilet revolt. In Maryland homeowners are picking up large capacity models at yard sales. Affluent Angelenos are buying two toilets: a new 1.6-gal. low-flow for show and an old 3.5-gal. tank that they install after the building inspector leaves. "It's been my biggest call-back," says contractor David Leonard of Indianapolis, Indiana. One customer required seven trips to service a perpetually clogged low-flow. "I don't know what this guy eats," says Leonard, "but we keep having to plunge to get it to pass through."

Toilet manufacturers, who had pushed for uniform federal standards after water poor states started setting their own, admit they were slow to find good low-flow designs. But their latest models use various tricks - wider pipes, extra air pressure - to make up in flush power what they lack in volume. That, say bowlmakers, should eliminate most complaints.

By Christine Gorman.
Reported by Julie Grace/Chicago and Christine Sadlowski/New York


LETTERS TO THE EDITOR ABOUT THIS ARTICLE (July 22. 1996)

Not So Royal Flush

IT IS ABOUT TIME A MAGAZINE FLUSHED out the news about the politically correct but poorly performing low-flow toilet [SCIENCE, July 1]. My experience is that the new toilets are an embarrassment to our technically advanced society. Why does one have to reflush to remove floating stuff that just didn't wash away the first time, only to flush again and get some new surprises? And a person cannot go away for a few days without making sure everything got flushed away, or he may risk returning to a house that has a new odor. Looks like environmentalists had better go back to the "throne" to do some more thinking.

John A. Lace Hawthorne, New Jersey


OUR FAMILY'S SOLUTION TO THE LOW TIDE in toilet bowls is the plunger: don't go home without it.

Howard F. Stein Bethany, Oklahoma

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