ShareThis Page
Flushing away our freedom |

Flushing away our freedom

| Saturday, June 30, 2012 8:59 p.m

My toilets are turning me into my father.

When I was a kid in the 1970s, there were few greater worries than the plumbing. This was mostly because plumbers were expensive and many families had only one income.

My father, always looking for a bargain, purchased the cheapest toilet he could find for the powder room he finished in the basement. It never did work right.

For starters, it was absurdly small — as though it had been designed for miniature people. It didn’t take more than a few pieces of tissue to clog it. My father was soon spending much of his spare time unplugging it — and pleading with us not to use it.

Inevitably, however, somebody would use it, it would clog, my mother would rush to shut off the valve, and my father would grumble to her, “For godssakes, Betty, why can’t they use the upstairs commodes?”

Still, that old toilet was lots better than the new toilets I have installed in a couple of rental units I own — and now, like my father before me, the plumbing is one of my greatest sources of worry.

That worry is caused by federal action taken in the early 1990s.

Back then, each state had its own toilet standards, which made toilet manufacturing more costly. So a toilet association lobbied Congress to create one national toilet standard, an idea that made sense.

But the move to standardize was seized upon by bureaucrats and environmentalists. They saw an opportunity to craft a federal law that would conserve the nation’s water supply. Somebody arbitrarily decided that a 1.6-gallon toilet, rather than the 3.5- to 5-gallon toilets most Americans were then using, would do the trick, and some legislator slipped the requirement into the Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1992.

For nearly 20 years now, the government has mandated that new U.S. toilets use only 1.6 gallons of water per flush, down from the robust 3.5 gallons per flush Americans had enjoyed since we perfected the art of indoor plumbing.

Scientifically speaking, 1.6 gallons of conventional gravity flushing isn’t very powerful. It’s barely powerful enough to flush a few errant strands of tissue — which is great for singer Sheryl Crow, who recommends that that is all we use.

Here’s the kicker: Unless you get a top model at top dollar, which can be somewhat functional, the new toilets aren’t necessarily conserving much water at all. A plumbing expert I talked with told me that to prevent clogs, people are flushing two or three times to get the job done.

And so I worry. I’ve warned my tenants about the problem. I’ve urged them to embrace the Sheryl Crow philosophy, but clogs are common and a massive overflow into the rental units below me is just a matter of time.

It’s no wonder, then, that such federal laws are turning law-abiding Americans into criminals. It is now illegal to “procure” a 3.5-gallon toilet, but that hasn’t stopped desperate fathers and landlords from driving to Canada, where the larger-flow toilets are still available.

If you get caught with one, though, the feds will slap you with a $2,500 fine and prosecute you for transporting porcelain over federal lines for illegal flushes.

This infringement on our freedoms is an outrage, yet the ACLU is nowhere to be found. Hey, ACLU, government bureaucrats have no right butting into our bathrooms!

What will they take away next? Our Reader’s Digests?

Tom Purcell, a freelance writer, lives in Library. Visit him on the web at Email him at:

Categories: News
TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.