The Terrible Truths About Toilets

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They are everywhere, but despite their mundanity and status as a subject of loathing by germaphobes and the health conscious alike, toilets are both more dangerous and less dangerous than you might expect — for the strangest reasons. In this account, discover the unsettling and shocking truths about toilets of the world that will make you pause on your next trip to the washroom, restroom, lavatory, or whatever you decide to call it. 

10. Toilet Plume

Keep your hands out of the toilet, don’t fall in, and wash your hands after the loo visit and you should be all good, right? Well, not quite the case, sorry to say. Toilets spray contaminants right into the air, about six feet according to general estimates by microbiology researchers. Unfortunately for you, this contamination includes not just some dirty water spray but actual fecal particles. There is a term for this thing and it is “Toilet Plume.” Enough to make you shut the lid before you flush, correct? And for goodness sake, do not touch the underside of the toilet lid after all this!

The jury is still out on to what degree toilet plume is likely to make you ill. The subject has been insufficiently researched to say for sure, for the most part, so perhaps a little extra caution is deserved here. University of Arizona associate professor of environmental and occupational health Dr. Kelly Reynolds noted that toilet plume, a spray of microscopic waste and toilet water particles “is easily transmitted in a wide range of air space when you flush the toilet,” a finding based on her rather interesting work, which included studies of the toilet plume phenomenon. A study hailing from the Journal of Applied Microbiology published in 2005 identified a 2.7 foot vertical “launch” of toilet plume. Yuck!

9. Exploding Toilets

Exploding toilets may sound like an amusing special effect but in fact they represent a real safety matter in the history of the loo. In rare cases sewage overflow and incidental air leaks into toilets have caused potties to go poof, but the true horror stories come from the compressed air assisted toilets, as described by Aaron Kase of Lawyers.com in an article published on Business Insider. Some Flushmate III Pressure-Assist Flushing System models made between 1997 and 2008 were targeted for recall by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission when it was discovered that the toilets could explode.

The terrifying incidents caused injuries, in one case requiring stiches to fix a lacerated back from potty porcelain turned shrapnel. The exploding toilet matter even led to a $5 million lawsuit demanding greater action to remedy the problem, beyond mailing out repair kits intended to prevent the problem. While the concept of the exploding toilet, whatever its cause, is certainly no myth, it is fortunately still a very rare occurrence worldwide.

8. The Throne Death of King George II

A room in which one uses a toilet is mockingly called a “throne room” at times. But a certain time in history saw the shocking death of a real king on nothing less than a toilet. King George II of Great Britain passed away while using the toilet from what came to be known as Aortic Dissection (AD) on October 25, 1760. “Straining on the toilet” was a most embarrassing factor in this death. A variety of medical discussions have ensued following the king’s death, centering on autopsies that had some truly grotesque findings. As described in an account published in Vascular Disease Management.com titled “On the death of King George II in 1760: Aortic Dissection in Perspective,” the straining on the toilet had precipitated the catastrophic rupture.

The king’s German valet de chambre was alarmed by a noise, subsequently discovering the dead king. The autopsy that followed revealed the following: “…the pericardium was found distended with a quantity of coagulated blood, nearly a pint…; the whole heart was so compressed as to prevent any blood contained in the veins from being forced into the auricles; therefore the ventricles were found absolutely void of blood…; and in the trunk of the aorta we found a transverse fissure on its inner side, about an inch and a half long, through which some blood had recently passed under its external coat and formed an elevated ecchymosis.”

7. Wildlife of World Washrooms

An animal attack while using a toilet seems far fetched, but when it does happen, it can be too horrific to imagine. Toilets can attract problematic creatures and as we know, conflict for space can lead to a fight that the human toilet user is bound to lose. Sometimes, using an outhouse brings about the risk of an encounter with a Black Widow spider, but for one very unfortunate Thai man was attacked in the washroom in May 2016 and subsequently suffered serious bites to his penis.

The aggressor? A 10-foot-long reticulated python that was using the toilet of his choice as habitat after getting into the plumbing and then into the toilet. The attack took place in the Thai province of Chachoengsao. The unfortunate 38-year-old was able to force the snake’s jaws before he passed out, losing a quantity of blood in the process. The victim was hospitalized and underwent surgery before recovering. The snake also survived and was relocated after the incident. After recovering, he made plans to replace the squat toilet with a flush toilet, hoping to reduce the risk of future snake attacks.

6. The Sinking of U-1206

During World War II, a German U-boat was sunk by a toilet malfunction. Yes, you read that right. Mere toilet troubles sent a fearsome U-boat to the sea floor with loss of life. Toilets were an issue on the U-boats, leading to some elaborate innovations in on-board toilet technology to permit deeper dives and thus elude Allied countermeasures. The toilet relied on an intricate valve system under high pressure which also necessitated special training on the part of those operating the works. The vessel set off on patrol on April 6, 1945, a mission that was ill-fated because of the new toilet.

Leaving from Kristiansand, Norway, the vessel headed for Britain in hopes of intercepting Allied ships, but was cut short to just 8 days when disaster struck on April 14. The toilet operation proved problematic, and an engineer was called. The engineer opened the incorrect valve, leading to a flood. The flood reached the forward compartment, which damaged the batteries and released toxic chlorine gas. The captain was forced to surface, but the boat was spotted by Allied forces off the Scottish coastline. The captain decided to let the boat sink, having been seen by aircraft. Three of the crew drowned, while 37 were rescued and became prisoners of war.


5. Modern Toilet Restaurant

Taiwan is home to a truly bizarre themed restaurant. Called Modern Toilet Restaurant, this place to eat is amusingly (or grotesquely, depending on how you think about it) centered around all things toilet. Tiny toilets are used as food dishes, while bathroom derived furniture par extraordinaire dominates the restaurant. Especially prominent are the toilets recycled as dining chairs.

Little washroom signs are included as stick in signs in the meals themselves. You could end up eating from a tiny model bathtub, set on a table fashioned from a recycled bathroom sink, while sitting on a repurposed toilet. If that was not enough, you are probably now wondering about the food, for good reason. The actual meals include a variety of dishes that are perhaps logically fashioned in the likeness of waste products of the type that might be found in an active toilet. What will they think of next?

4. World Toilet Day

Yes, it is a thing, and it’s called World Toilet Day. No, it’s not an event where hobbyists and professionals show off photos of toilets, or where people dress up as toilets in some kind of photo contest (though these would, admittedly, be interesting ways to spend the day). World Toilet Day is hosted with a focus on giving people the human dignity of access to a proper toilet. Toilets are unfortunately a luxury still out of reach for much of the developing world.

World Toilet Day was designated in 2001 and in 2013 became an official United Nations day. The website for World Toilet Day includes the following statement highlighting the significance of the toilet access issue: “Whoever you are, wherever you are, sanitation is your human right. And yet, today, 4.2 billion people live without safely managed sanitation.”

3. Toilet Tourism

Toilet tourism. You might have thought you are an expert on tourism types, but you may have left something off the list. Eco-tourism, cultural tourism, food tourism and yes, let us not forget about toilet tourism. For Carolyn Childs and Bronwyn White, serious researchers on tourism destination experiences and related economic factors, toilets were the subject of their studies. The quality of bathrooms and the impact of this value was assessed through quantitative studies and focus group sessions.

The finding was logical. Great bathrooms are good for business to a significant degree. Not to get too extreme but, just to tell the truth, it was found that for the truly committed, washrooms that are special might even become front and center parts of the destination appeal as the attractions in and of themselves. (Editor’s note: just ask anyone in Texas about Buc-ee’s, if you don’t believe this.) The work didn’t stop at research. The two researchers, owners of My Travel Research, established the International Toilet Tourism Awards. Entries from around the world are reviewed and the destinations with the best toilets are selected as winners.

2. The Toilet Deities

You may think you have seen it all. Heard it all. Traveled the world, read the books, that sort of thing. But you probably have not thought of this one: Toilet Gods and Goddesses. Yes, around the world, there is such a thing. For starters, Japanese, Chinese, and Korean cultures had various deities in their history who were dedicated to the important matter of safely using the latrine and dealing with human waste. A variety of rituals were enacted in East Asia to deal with toilet gods and goddesses ranging from saying prayers to toilet gods in China to clearing one’s throat to warn a toilet god in Japan.

The imagined appearance of toilet deities ranged from that of a ragged old man to that of an attractive young woman. Other examples of toilet centered religious rituals range far and wide. Roman religion included recognition of a sewer goddess, a god of excrement and a toilet god. Titus Tatius even constructed a shrine to Cloacina, who was viewed as the one to protect Rome’s sewers. The intention was for Cloacina to be invoked in case of sewer backup.

1. As Clean as a Toilet Seat

Finally, some weird but good news about toilets. Despite the dangers of toilet bowls being laden with bacteria and spray hitting toilet lids, it might be a shocking fact to many to learn that toilet seats are typically rather clean items. A study by Dr. Chuck Gerba, a University of Arizona microbiology professor, reported the fascinating finding that toilet seats were his standard for item cleanliness. With an average of just 50 bacteria per square inch, the level of toilet seat cleanliness is a shocking finding for many. 

Gerba’s work saw him swabbing items found around the house and then studying the abundance and species composition of bacteria found, with a focus on faecal organisms including E. coli and staphylococcus aureus. Using toilet seats like a unit of measure for degrees of dirtiness is starting to catch on in a variety of articles published in popular media. You will hear things being described in terms of how many times as dirty as a toilet seat they are. Gerba describes cutting boards as having 200 times as many germs as toilet seats, while a dishcloth reaches as shocking 200,000 times the level of contamination as a toilet seat. Scary!


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