Low-flow toilets cause stink in San Francisco
Rain drenches San Francisco last month, but it's during summer when sewers emit a rotten-egg smell.
March 1st, 2011
07:21 AM ET

Low-flow toilets cause stink in San Francisco

The city of San Francisco's push for low-flow toilets is saving water at a smelly price.

Use of the low-flow toilets has cut city water consumption by 20 million gallons a year, Public Utilities Commission spokesman Tyrone Jue told the San Francisco Chronicle.

But the cost is both monetary and olfactory.

Because water flow isn't pushing the waste through the system fast enough, a stinky sludge is building up in the sewers, the Chronicle reports. It's blamed for a rotten-egg smell wafting through areas of the city, especially during summer, according to the report.

So the city is spending $14 million to buy a three-year supply of concentrated bleach to combat the sewer odor, disinfect treated water before it's pumped into San Francisco Bay and sanitize tap water.

The plan is drawing criticism from environmental advocates.

"Using sodium hypochlorite, commonly known as bleach, is the equivalent of using a sledgehammer to crack an egg; it's the wrong tool, and it will cause irreversible collateral damage," San Francisco chemical engineer Adam Lowry and German chemist Michael Braungart wrote in a Chronicle op-ed.

Their solution to the stink: either dumping hydrogen peroxide into the sewers or "a pro-biotic solution, that is, enzymes or bacteria that would simply 'eat' the smell then degrade harmlessly."

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Filed under: California • Environment • San Francisco
soundoff (287 Responses)
  1. Rama

    We were there visiting San Francisco, during the month of August last year, and the horrible stink emanating from everywhere , especially from the foot paths on which we were walking was unbearable, when I asked my husband what this stink, he being an effluent and waste water treatment engineer said it was coming from the drains.
    To think in a country like US, which is supposed to be so advanced, they have not figured out how to deal with situation,
    I can only say God save America!

    March 3, 2011 at 12:30 am | Report abuse | Reply
  2. mikehell

    Look, the problem is not the low-flow toilets, but the high-flow people! Why doesn't the city *require* everyone to insert an plug in the business end? Stop up the 'drain' and the problem is solved. Another solution is to *require* under pain of fine or imprisonment, that everyone consume at least one constipating meal every day so that the high-flow people are turned into low-flow people. I mean, if the city can keep McDonalds from giving away toys to kids, why can't they also induce residents to become more 'solid'? Hm? And don't even tell me about the moral and ethical dimensions of my suggestions. The city has ruled that morality and ethics do not apply when it comes to imposing one's ideas on others.

    March 4, 2011 at 12:21 am | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Claude Slagenhop

    II hate low flow toilets. The greenies lost my vote over this one. I have to flush the things two to three times to get the turd to go down.

    March 5, 2011 at 8:51 am | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Avser Bastian

    OBAMA = STALIN = BUSH…USA = USSR....WHO, WHY, AND HOW RUINED YOU…FROM 911 TO AUSTRALIAN FLOODS – ARIZONA SHOOTING – WIKILEAKS is CIA – ESKIMO SARAH PALIN'S "BRIDGE TO NOWHERE" - LEARN ABOUT REAL HUMAN FLASH EATING MACHINE OR SO CALLED ECONOMY – BREAST FEEDING INSANITY - CIVIL RIOTS IN ARAB COUNTRIES – NEWS/MEDIA or simply CENSORSHIP AND BIG FAT WORLD OF LIES !!??? – NEW WORLD ORDER POLITICAL PARTIES(REP = DEM all the same) http://avsecbostjan.wordpress.com/ or http://avsecbostjan.blogspot.com/

    OBAMA = STALIN = BUSH…USA = USSR....WHO, WHY, AND HOW RUINED YOU…FROM 911 TO AUSTRALIAN FLOODS – ARIZONA SHOOTING – WIKILEAKS is CIA – ESKIMO SARAH PALIN'S "BRIDGE TO NOWHERE" - LEARN ABOUT REAL HUMAN FLASH EATING MACHINE OR SO CALLED ECONOMY – BREAST FEEDING INSANITY - CIVIL RIOTS IN ARAB COUNTRIES – NEWS/MEDIA or simply CENSORSHIP AND BIG FAT WORLD OF LIES !!??? – NEW WORLD ORDER POLITICAL PARTIES(REP = DEM all the same) http://avsecbostjan.wordpress.com/ or http://avsecbostjan.blogspot.com/

    March 5, 2011 at 3:07 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Teryll Baker

    If the water discharged from the Sewage Treatment Plants, before the bleach was poured in, was good enough to be put into the Bay, why couldn't some of it be turned around and put back into the system at key locations up stream to help the flow throughout the system & prevent sludge build up. It could be recycled forever!
    I know, I know, it would have to be pumped. Well how much has every citizen had to pay for this FIASCO now & into the future, for bleach. Remember this rule,"the Govt. makes problems & the Tax Payer pays through the nose to fix them". There are so many Govt. Employees in Calif. you should be able to pay for pumps & build a new Hoover Dam too!
    The outflow from the Sewer Plant must be tremendous in volume for a City of almost 1 Million. Seems to me they could design a Turbine Generator to place in some of that outflow, & produce enough Electric Power to help offset the power consumption & cost of pumps, if not all of the costs.
    I don't really believe they saved 20 Million gallons of water anyways, when everyone is saying they flush 2 or 3 times. My guess is they used more water. Trying something different & more sensible could save you the Taxpayer money. Flush Trick; flush once, count to 6 or 8 flush again, holding down the handle until all the water is gone, release handle. This won't use quite as much water as filling the tank & flushing a 2nd time but it gets the job done.

    March 5, 2011 at 3:34 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Rod Pennington

    Zeocarbon manhole odor control inserts have been used to stop the stink in Chicago sewers for several years.

    March 5, 2011 at 11:15 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Teryll Baker

    A lot of people seem to be worried about Sea Water in the Sewer System. PVC & ABS pipes have been around for a long time. I would say at least 50 years. They are impervious to salt corrosion. I would hope San Fran updated the pipes a long time ago! As for the Treatment Plants, they see a lot worse chemicals than salt. Acid, chlorine, lye, household chemicals etc. Saudi Arabia pumps Sea Water constantly to desalinize it for drinking water. There pumps are fine. You Liberal Democraps quit trying to make sh?t up. Get behind something right for a change!

    March 7, 2011 at 7:23 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Todd

    Here's a simple solution: don't use toilets

    April 7, 2011 at 2:41 am | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Mike N

    My problem with this study is that they claim low flush toilets are the cause. That makes no sense. Figure it this way. All waste water whether its from sinks, showers or toilets all enters the sewer system so its a combination of all this water that runs through the system not just from toilets. Now lets take San Francisco for as an example. I am sure 50 years ago SF had a smaller population compared to today. That means that less water was being used and thus entering the sewer system, a sewer system that was probably less efficient than it is today. In those days water conservation was not practiced much and faucets and toilets and other appliances were not built to conserve water. So thus 50 years ago X number gallons of water used per person may have been higher but less people were there to use it. Today we conserve or some of us do and our appliances conserve water but the population is larger. So X number of gallons of water per person is lower but there are many more users. That being said even if someone wants to argue that the population growth is insignificant enough to really balance it out we have to keep in mind that many people work harder to conserve water even without the help of their appliances built in water saving designs so simply blaming the newer ttoilets is ridiculous. Maybe we should focus more on trying to find better ways to handle our sewage rather than saying we need to waste more water. Oh and I like the idea someone said about recycling waste water back through the system to compensate for the lower flow from users though not sure how that would work from an engineering standpoint as I am not knowledgable on that stuff.

    And also I replaced both toilets in my house with newer low flow toilets after doing my homework.I decided on Kohler Cimmaron's priced at around $200-250. While not as powerful as my old 40 year ones they work pretty damn wall and make a nice powerful flush. If you do your homework you can find good lowflow toilets. Make sure they have large trapways. 3 inch traps are best. And ones with glazed traps improve things even more. Don't buy $99 toilets. They will suck. Check flush ratings and read reviews. Even go on Youtube and look at video reviews other gave. There are higher priced assisted flush toilets with built in motors within their tanks which really produce a powerful flush as well but they cost alot more.

    I'm tired of hearing stupid conservatives complaining about liberals trying to make our planet a better place. These rightwingers feel they should be allowed to do only whats good for them and give up nothing even if it helps other people and the planet. They want jet level power in their toilets and they want to drive large SUV's as their primary transportation even when they don't need to space.

    They throw the world Nazi around to describe liberals most of whom really are looking out for the best interest of the world.

    June 30, 2011 at 11:12 am | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Me

    Left wingers can't stand to see other people enjoying their lives, so they have to get big nanny state involved to make everybody else as miserable as they are. They hypocritically complain about how people who use high flow toilets or other things they don't like are destroying the planet while they consume products that destroy the planet such as living in houses made of wood or using a computer. So left wingers need to spare everybody this crap that they support these regulations to save the planet.

    They also aren't smarter than everybody else nor do they know what's best for anybody else.

    August 16, 2011 at 7:51 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Calvin

    Agreed. How can you tell this smell from the normal smell of the city?

    March 1, 2011 at 8:39 am | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Rammu74

    A government that tells you how much water to flush when you use your bathroom is too powerful. How would the American Patriots of 1776 have felt about that much government power?

    March 1, 2011 at 8:50 am | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Nunya

    That shows how little you understand the people who live there.

    March 1, 2011 at 8:51 am | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Greg

    I don't think it's the toilets. I think it's the politicians.

    March 1, 2011 at 8:57 am | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Wackadoodle

    The 1776 patriots would be astounded that people nowadays not only don't have to go outside to the bathroom, but that their waste magically disappears through an intricate series of interconnected pipes hidden underground.

    If people are upset about being told how much water they can use, they should build their own sewage system.

    March 1, 2011 at 9:01 am | Report abuse | Reply
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