Toilet backwash is flooding Washington Legislation would repeal 1.6-gallon-per-flush law


WASHINGTON -- In 1992, Congress passed a law requiring every new residential toilet made in America to use only 1.6 gallons of water per flush -- a drop from the old 3.5-gallon standard.

Now, a backwash is flooding Washington.

Thirty-four members of Congress have co-signed legislation that would repeal the new standard and leave ordinary Americans in control of the size of their flush. "There's good regulation and there's bad regulation," said Rep. Joe Knollenberg, a Michigan Republican. "To me, this is an example of government run amok."

Knollenberg says the regulations were set down with little public input or research. He says his constituents want the government out of their bathrooms.

He and the other flush rebels in Congress have offered anecdotal reasons for scrapping the new toilets. Adults said aged parents had to flush multiple times. A fourth-grader wrote in on lined composition paper: "I'm one out of five children, and the toilets get stopped up every week!"

But most plumbing manufacturers and environmentalists support the new rules. Toilet makers don't want to deal with a maze of different state regulations that might require the manufacturing of a dozen different toilet sizes.

And environmentalists point to water savings from the new models, with New York City cutting water use by 7 percent since it began reducing the volume of flushes.

"There's a certain kind of eighth-grade quality to the discussion, about the federal government coming into the bathroom," said Edward Osann of the American Council for Energy Efficient Economy, a consortium of plumbing manufacturers and environmental groups. "That's kind of funny, but there's a serious side to this issue.

"There are now about 25 million 1.6-gallon toilets shipped and installed across the country, and it's hard to believe none of them works," Osann said.

Successful or not, the new toilets have created what Knollenberg calls a "black market" for the 3.5-gallon models, which some toilet rebels have installed in their homes. While some write of their fear of the "toilet police," the only federal penalty is a $100-per-toilet charge for manufacturing 3.5-gallon toilets.

Paul Lynch, the chief residential building inspector in Fairfax County, Va., said anyone who violates state building codes could face a criminal fine of up to $2,500, but he's never dragged anyone into court over a rogue toilet.

"If someone has a 3.5-gallon model sitting in his garage and it works and is safe, I'm not so sure it's a code violation to install it," Lynch said. "We wouldn't even consider taking something like that into a criminal court of law."

Pub Date: 12/12/97

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