Monday, May 9, 2011

The Beginning - I notice the toilet doesn't flush well

UPDATE: On March 15, 2017, I received a response to my concerns about the High Efficiency Water$ense toilet.


On the 30th of December, 2016, various news services carried a story titled:

San Francisco smells like rotten eggs and nobody knows why

Using Google and those words, I found slightly less than 60,000 citations to this news story. A cursory glance through a few of them shows that the officials, people and others concerned have not connected the WaterSense toilets with this problem. Not yet, anyway. The authorities at the S.F. Public Utilities Commission denied that the sewers are the problem. Do all these various authorities and agencies have no memory? As for the sewer's not being the problem, I wonder, do they have someone go around the City and sniff here and there? Lastly I would disagree with the notion that there is no harm in this latest incidence of the odor of hydrogen sulfide. It is both flammable and poisonous.

Text and graphics below forms the original post.

To All To Whom These Presents Shall Come:


 - and please accept my apology for the disgusting series of images that the posts at this weblog must necessarily discuss. I write about this as I don't want the law of unintended consequences to apply here in Los Angeles California. Especially in the Hollywood area, where I make my home.

In 1992, the Congress passed the Energy Policy Act which was later amended by the Energy Policy Act of 2005. Legal gobbledygook aside, what these laws have collectively done is to limit the amount of water a toilet uses. Older toilets use 5 or 3.5 gallons per flush. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) went even further, getting toilet manufacturers to make toilets that use only 1.25-1.28 gallons per flush. By changed, I mean that after the 1992 law went into effect, all toilets sold in the United States had to use no more than 1.60 gallons per flush. Since that time the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has coined the term: WaterSense. The WaterSense label can be applied to some products that meet the EPA's definitions. One of those products is the "High Efficiency Toilet" or HET. The 1.25 gallons per flush toilets are qualified to use the WaterSense label. These devices are manufactured by about two dozen makers and their are more than 600 models of these toilets.

Further searching about low water usage toilets revealed that the people of San Francisco are complaining about the smell of human feces all over the SF city and county. You can read those comments and posts here:

Poo Smell?

That page dates back to 2009.

In 2011, at a webpage about the smell in San Francisco, one poster writes:

Unread 03-09-2011, 04:48 PM
Join Date: Oct 2007
Location: East Bay California
19 posts, read 17,707 times
Reputation: 19
I work in the Financial District near Market and First and some mornings it is absolutely rank! I never knew what it was until I heard about this on KCBS a week or so ago. And on a KSFO morning talk show the other day they had one plumber after another calling in and literally LAUGHING about all the money they were making clearing clogged pipes. Goddamned environMENTALists. When you start paying my water bill then you can tell me how I use my water.

Read more:

So, the problem was not at first accurately identified as being caused by a lack of water moving through the sewer system.

Next I found, on the internet, a page from a Houston, Texas consulting firm: Think Reliability, and I checked them out, lest I find that they have some sort of ulterior motive in posting what they did. But they are a crisis-management consulting firm and I believe what they have to say is true. Their webpage (April 2011) is:

Image courtesy of ThinkReliability, Houston, Texas

Their webpage is easier to read from their servers. This one is somewhat fuzzy. If you click it, it will be easier to read. I'm not computer geek enough to know how to correct that. What it says is that the lack of water moving through the sewer system is causing the odor.

That version of the facts is contradicted by Francesca Vietor, president of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission and Mary Ann Dickinson, president and CEO of the Alliance for Water Efficiency. In an op-ed piece for The San Francisco Examiner newspaper (online) they say:

--------------------- beginning of op-ed piece --------------------

By: Francesca Vietor And Mary Ann Dickinson
03/21/11 9:14 PM
Special To The Examiner

Recently, a small group of media bloggers has been busy riffing about San Francisco’s sewer-odor woes, fueled in part by humor that is short on facts. Some critics even blame water-thrifty toilets for supposedly adding to The City’s sewer problems.

Like hundreds of other U.S. cities operating a 24/7 sewer system, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission has a long-term capital plan to upgrade The City’s wastewater system that will help ensure it operates as efficiently as possible with lower flows.

Reduced water demand is a positive move in the right direction. Investments in water savings, including high-efficiency toilets and other water-efficient technologies, will play an important role in how San Francisco and other water utilities meet local and state conservation requirements and ensure a reliable water supply for future generations.

Today, major plumbing codes and several states mandate that most toilets installed use a maximum of 1.28 gallons per flush — a minimum 20 percent water savings compared to many existing higher-volume toilets. In addition, the SFPUC and many other water utilities demand more accountability from manufacturers and provide customers financial incentives for only those models that meet the highest performance standards.

The U.S. has saved more than 46 billion gallons of water — enough to supply San Francisco for more than a year — and at least $343 million in consumer water and sewer bills as a result of the millions of high-efficiency toilets and other fixtures installed since the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency launched its popular WaterSense program in 2006.

National nonprofit organizations dedicated to water conservation, such as the Chicago-based Alliance for Water Efficiency and Green Plumbers USA, are active partners with WaterSense and many other U.S. water and sewer utilities that actively promote high-efficiency plumbing fixtures for their valuable water savings, sewer system benefits, and energy and carbon offsets.

The U.S. now saves more than 6 billion gallons of water per day — and equivalent reduced sewer flows — from the first generation of national plumbing-fixture water-efficiency standards mandated by the Energy Policy Act of 1992. Moreover, the sewer systems in several major cities have realized significant infrastructure and capital cost savings from toilet replacement and other water-conservation programs.

For example, New York City installed more than 1.3 million low-volume toilets between 1994 and 1997 in a bold water-saving strategy designed to reduce sewer flows. The result: NYC and its sewer ratepayers saved more than $1 billion by canceling a planned sewage plant expansion.

In San Francisco, the volume of wastewater flows has remained relatively constant for the past 30 years in part because water conservation has helped to offset The City’s population growth.

Better sewers are definitely in San Francisco’s future. In the meantime, the SFPUC and other water utilities need to continue promoting high-efficiency toilets and other water-saving devices because they are essential for a future water supply and sewer system that is affordable, manageable and truly sustainable.

By the way, today happens to be World Water Day. So keep conserving water today and every day.

Francesca Vietor is the president of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. Mary Ann Dickinson is the president and CEO of the Alliance for Water Efficiency.

----------------------- end of op-ed piece -------------------------

So, their difference of opinion starts to raise the question, who is using common sense about the problem. To try to figure that out I started reading all the stuff that the EPA put online about these potentially problematic toilets. I found some of the research at the EPA was critiqued by Dr. Lawrence Galowin, Ph.D. and I spoke with him on the telephone about the HETs. I asked him if any surveys, studies, reports or analyses had been performed on the HET in situ. He replied that no such study as I was asking about had been performed. He talked about one study done on HETs in the context of rusty pipes. I believe that most sewer "lines" are made of concrete or of some plastic-like material, but not a rusting metal. Metal pipes are found in homes. When I asked him about the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (AMSE) standard for these devices, he replied that he had sat on the ASME committee about HETs and that he and some other people had voted against HETs, but that they were out-voted by the "big money interests" and others. He also told me that there had been no surveys, studies, reports or analyses performed since the National Plumbing Administration had been de-funded in the 1980s. NO STUDIES!!! --So I wonder what Ms. Dickinson and Ms. Vietor based their assessments of the cause of the smell on!

Next I spoke with the author of

Estimated Use of Water in the United States in 2005

I asked a "point blank" question: "Is there a water crisis in the United States"? And as we talked I came to understand that while various parts of the U.S. have drought some years, they also have some years of abundance. Now I was thoroughly confused. It seems to me that both the United States Geological Survey and the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission cannot be right simultaneously. Either the USGS is right or the SFPUC is right.

In March 2011, the newsmedia reports that the City of SF purchased $14 million dollars in bleach and that of those $14 million, $3 million is for pouring into the sewers to stop the smell. But I cannot help but wonder how long that will work, the bleach will run out before too long and it will start to smell their again. If, as the government officials would have me believe, that the smell isn't related to the lack of water, why are they bleaching the sewer lines? If they are bleaching the sewer lines to permanently eradicate the odor, and if they must do this periodically, how is that "good for the environment"? And I read online, that at least one group is arguing for hydrogen peroxide, instead of bleach (sodium hypochlorite), claiming it's safer, etc. Neither bleach nor peroxide sound safe to me. I believe water is safer than either of those two chemicals and I bet it costs a lot less money in comparison. So, is this a case of the City being "penny wise and pound foolish"?

I'm not yet ready to say that the City Fathers of San Francisco have made "indoor air pollution", but it seems to me that they have become "air polluters". In the past I have always enjoyed visiting San Francisco. But as of now I would not want to visit, pass through, work, live, or play in San Francisco.

I have put in Freedom of Information Requests to the EPA, this week (May 2, 2011) and they have 20 days to respond. I have written a number of groups that deal with real estate, apartment buildings, landlords, The American Institute of Architects, The National Society of Professional Engineers and a few others. I'm awaiting responses from these folks. If someone responds in a useful manner, I'll post it here in the next blog entry. [update on responses -July 24, 2012- I have no responses from any of the hundred or so people I've contacted.]

If you have read all the way to this point, you can help by posting in the comments section about whether you have a WaterSense toilet, your zipcode, whether you live in an apartment, whether the apartment has replaced the toilets with HETs, and lastly, whether you  smell sewer-gas, and please give the location where that happened.



e-CFR to table of maximum water for toilets