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. Paul

    I wonder if they could take effluent from some intermediate stage in the wastewater treatment system and pump that back to flush out the sewers, or at least the parts that are particularly odorous.

    March 1, 2011 at 9:39 am | Report abuse |
  2. Wally Balloo

    Incinerator toilets can be an alternative. You just have to deal with the ashes – that's ASHES – before anybody makes a joke!

    March 1, 2011 at 9:40 am | Report abuse |
  3. Wally Balloo

    Or grey-water water re-use, where you use the water from your shower or sink to flush. It's going down the drain anyway, and it will likely be soapy, helping to keep the toilet clean. The problem is they cost about $300 – $500 installed.

    March 1, 2011 at 9:43 am | Report abuse |
  4. Juan

    Hippies smell. Its their natural oddor. Now they are taking over frisco, and surely don't care about the new natural perfume of the city. It willl for sure improve karma.

    March 1, 2011 at 9:44 am | Report abuse |
    • Mars Bonfire

      Juan, your own karma is in doubt. Does it hurt, to be that stupid?

      March 1, 2011 at 11:44 am | Report abuse |
  5. A CNN Reader

    I say just put back the regular toilets... If they arent working good enough, people will flush twice, thereby negating the savings in the first place. Using hydrogen Peroxide is a VERY bad idea... we all know what it does when it hits our skin and there is an infection, and in a city with the health problems that it has, what do you think that stuff would do when it hits the waste and begins offgassing ???? That gas has to go somewhere..

    March 1, 2011 at 9:46 am | Report abuse |
  6. steve s

    hahahahahahaha. san fran / cali deserve this for their hippie ways!

    March 1, 2011 at 9:50 am | Report abuse |
  7. Willie12345

    Who says there isn't any justice in this world? So, who is leading this wonderful green revolution anyways?

    March 1, 2011 at 9:53 am | Report abuse |
  8. 4x4 Jeep

    Easy solution to this dilema . Dont eat bbq or beans. Plus peroxode will work but that too will be a time limited thing just ask a dr. Peroxide can only be used 2 times more use will be null and void. Clothes pins are in order for everyones nose.lol

    March 1, 2011 at 9:55 am | Report abuse |
  9. Hunter

    Well you could always go back to using more water to flush with, after all the sewer system was designed with a minim water flow in mind.

    March 1, 2011 at 10:02 am | Report abuse |
  10. Cesar

    Solution is simple: Poop & pee in New Jersey, no one will be able to tell the difference; Problem solved.

    March 1, 2011 at 10:04 am | Report abuse |
  11. erielhonan

    "a rotten-egg smell wafting through areas of the city"

    Um, no. Not rotten eggs. It smells like poop. On a warm, dry day every street corner with a storm drain smells exactly like poop.

    Of course there are so many homeless people in San Francisco using whatever spot of sidewalk they happen to be passed out on at the moment as a toilet, that it smells like poop in-between the street corners too.

    March 1, 2011 at 10:05 am | Report abuse |
  12. patsy47

    Is there some way that coastal cities like San Francisco and New York could take use seawater for sanitation? There seem to be a number of professionals in this field who have posted comments, so perhaps someone out there knows about this.

    Of course, even if the technology existed, the retrofitting would be gargantuan, but our supply of potable water is finite, and eventually we may have few alternatives.

    March 1, 2011 at 10:06 am | Report abuse |
    • Mars Bonfire

      Patsy, you have no business posting here.... your comments are thoughtful, insightful, and far beyond the ability of most of these cretins to comprehend. Sea water is a potential solution, but there are drawbacks. The salt content is aggressive to pumps and even concrete sewers, and would complicate treatment at the wastewater treatment plant. It would also take a lot of energy to pump heavy sea water up into the wastewatershed, and would require a hugely expensive network of pipes either in-ground or overland, disrupting traffic, etc. Storing storm water in the upper reaches of the city for flushing sewers periodically seems to me to be the cheapest, most feasible approach.

      March 1, 2011 at 11:19 am | Report abuse |
  13. Jinda

    San Fransisco will cut off it's nose to spite it's face.

    March 1, 2011 at 10:10 am | Report abuse |
  14. RobGinChicago

    Santorum in the sewers? Interesting place to announce his candidacy!

    March 1, 2011 at 10:14 am | Report abuse |
  15. I. Mold

    I tried those toilet tank bleach tablets; clean bowl, but had to replace all the hardware in the tank. Installed "bleach proof" parts, dropped in the tablets, replaced all the tank parts again. No more bleach tablets. Has anyone studied the effect of concentrated bleach on all the structures and components that would be exposed to it? Sounds like a potentially expensive experiment if the sewers would end up needing repairs from bleach damage. Yes, I know customers flush bleach down sewers, but this sounds like a huge dose compared to a trickle. People have a bad history of running full speed with a new idea without considering all the implications.

    March 1, 2011 at 10:16 am | Report abuse |
    • DB

      That's a very good point. Bleach is highly corrosive and how in the world can they know now the long term effects on the sewer system? It's not like they were aware of the unintended consequences when switching to low flow toilets. Someone suggested higher elevation rainwater collection and periodic sewer flushing. At least that wouldn't cause corrosion.

      March 1, 2011 at 9:25 pm | Report abuse |
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