How many toilets are there in the United States? What would happen if they were all flushed at the same time? How dangerous is it to use the toilet?
If these are the sort of questions that haunt you not just on November 19 (International Toilet Day) but on a regular basis, urine luck because I have the answers. Respectively they are:
Further to number three (to say nothing of number two), some causes of serious toilet-related injuries include severe pinching of the genitalia (most common among young boys), dangerous fluctuations in blood pressure during evacuation, and toddlers drowning after head-first encounters with toilet bowls. Other injuries result from standing on the toilet seat to reach high objects or slipping on the rim after inadvertently sitting down hard on an open toilet when both lids are up. Animal-related injuries include bites from black widow spiders who like to nest in and around seldom-used toilet bowls and outhouses. In large cities, rats and even escaped pet snakes sometimes climb through sewer pipes to bite unsuspecting users in really sensitive places.
Another greatly under-publicized danger is that of toilets collapsing under the weight of their users. The 2000 Nobel prize in public health was awarded to three physicians from Glasgow for their 1993 case report on wounds sustained to the buttocks by collapsing toilets.
Famous people known to have died on the toilet include Robert Pastorelli, Lenny Bruce, Elvis Presley, and British politician Christopher Shale, who was found dead in a portable toilet last year at the Glastonbury Fair. The earliest known toilet-related deaths include Japanese warlord Uesugi Kenshin (1578) and King Edmund II of England (1016). And in the category of sheer karma there is Michael Anderson Godwin, a convicted murderer in South Carolina who had his sentence reduced from death by electric chair to life in prison. Godwin sat on the metal toilet in his cell while fixing his television and when he bit one of the wires the resultant electric shock killed him.
But the real danger from toilets lies in the fact that Americans use 400 billion gallons of water daily, and more of that water is used for flushing toilets than for showering, laundering, lawn-watering, or any other domestic activity. Obviously appalled by this, in 1992 George H. W. Bush signed into law the Energy Policy Act which made 1.6 gallons per flush toilets standard (and probably raised as much of a stink among Republicans as breaking his “no new taxes” pledge.) The law went into effect in January 1, 1994, for residential buildings and January 1, 1997, for commercial buildings. Ever since its passage, Republicans have been fighting an urgent rear-guard action against the law, which they find impossible to stomach.
As recently as a few months ago, Congressman Steve King (R-Kiron, IA) used a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C. to complain about “liberal” ideas like energy-saving light bulbs and low-flow toilets. “How did a nation born of freedom and liberty lose its freedom and liberty in this way?” King said. “How does a nation that’s blessed by an extraordinary supply of American exceptionalism submit inch-by-creeping-inch to the totalitarian state that’s descending upon us?” And in one of my favorite recent blog columns, a Republican gun-rights blogger explains how low-flow toilets are actually a liberal plot to undermine marriage. But as early as 2000, Dave Barry was using the low-flow toilet as a campaign platform during one of his quadrennial runs for president.
Under the rallying cry of “Power to the Potty!” Dave issued this stirring challenge to all Americans:
So I am calling on you, the voters, to stand up and be counted. Don’t let a bunch of élitist, infrastructure-obsessed, organic-tofu-eating, whale-saving, opera-listening, earth-tone-wearing PBS viewers set the election agenda for you! Boot up your computer right now (Windows 98 users, allow six hours). Then go to [the PBS election website] click on the word “Forum” and cast your ballot for the low-flow toilet issue. Let’s start a “movement,” voters! Let’s see if we can make this issue “crack” the top ten, perhaps even reaching “number one!” If we can, then I, as your president, will be able to force Congress to “pass” a meaningful Toilet Reform bill. Because Congress will know that I have you, the voters, behind me.
Clearly Dave’s movement was not, in the end, bulky enough to do the job for him. But who knows…maybe the courageous, principled Etch-a-Sketch guy will take up the challenge anew this year and fight for the freedom to fully flush. If he does, the blowback will be thunderous. Because, of that 400 billion gallons of water that Americans use every day to carry off their awful offal, nearly all of it is fresh, treated water. Water on which we spent a tremendous amount to collect, pipe, filter, and treat to make it safe to drink. And that’s just the kind of loo-nacy that gets folks on both sides of the commode all wee-wee’d up.
- Tech revolution ends up in the toilet (mercurynews.com)
- Exploding Toilets? 2 Million Flushing Systems Recalled (boston.cbslocal.com)
- With super-efficient toilets, high technology goes down the drain (goerie.com)
- A Tantalizing Toilet Tale (katherinesdaughter.com)
- #975 Airplane toilet flushes (1000awesomethings.com)