Toilets recalled for explosion risk

PHILADELPHIA — Each time Stan Auerbach sits on his toilet, he worries it might explode.

“It’s a little scary,” said Auerbach, 78, of Garnet Valley, Pa.

Auerbach has two toilets in his home, and they’re both outfitted with a powerful high-pressure Flushmate III system.

In June, the Flushmate III was declared a “laceration risk.” The Consumer Product Safety Commission issued a recall notice for more than 2.3 million of the water-conservation devices after learning that 304 units had blown up. The explosions shattered the commodes, caused home flooding, and, in some cases, sent porcelain shrapnel flying.

Auerbach, who so far has not had any trouble with his, is disconcerted, worried he may be sitting on ticking time bombs.

“So far I haven’t had a problem,” he said. “I’m hoping I don’t in the future. I’ve got 15 more years to live.”

A San Francisco lawyer filed a lawsuit earlier this month against Flushmate, owned by Sloan Valve Co. The complaint seeks more than $5 million in damages.

“Fundamentally, you can’t have toilets that are blowing up,” said the lawyer, David Birka-White. “How much do we need to say about that?”

The systems are designed to conserve water.

A photo on safety commission website SaferProducts.gov shows just what kind of damage the explosions can cause. The back of an alleged victim is held together with 20 surgical staples.

“I required dozens of stitches for an extremely deep wound because of the exploding porcelain,” the alleged victim, 26, reported in September. “Because I am a bigger person, I was able to absorb the brunt of the force. Again, had this happened to someone elderly or a child, the outcome could have been catastrophic.”

The recalled systems – rectangular, black, injection-molded plastic vessels – were manufactured during a 10 1/2-year span from October 1997 to February 2008. The 16-digit serial number of those units begins with 101497 (Oct. 14, 1997) and continues through 022908 (Feb. 29, 2008). The units are installed in toilets made by Kohler, American Standard, and a number of other manufacturers.

Flushmate spokesman Paul Deboo said he could not comment on the number, or extent, of bodily injuries caused by the bursting Flushmates.

Surprisingly, the Flushmate suit isn’t the first to be filed against manufacturers of pressure-assisted toilet devices.

“(H)undreds of Kohler toilets have been exploding for many years,” a Los Angeles judge wrote in 2010 in a preliminary decision to settle a case filed by Kohler against subcontractor Watts Water Technologies.

One of the Kohlers exploded in 2007 in the home of a well-to-do couple while they were on vacation. The resulting flood caused hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage. The couple settled the case for $800,000. Kohler has paid out more than $10 million to settle nearly 500 additional claims.

Birka-White, the San Francisco lawyer, said he was puzzled by Flushmate’s inaction.

“They have these incidents on the books dating back many, many years,” he said.

“The question is: Why didn’t they recall these things sooner?”

—-

ON THE WEB:

For further information about the recalled units, visit http://ph.ly/Flushmate.

—-

&Copy;2012 The Philadelphia Inquirer

Visit The Philadelphia Inquirer at www.philly.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

More in Local News

Fatal car crash reported on Highway 92 near Lake Stevens

The 3 p.m. accident and investigation stopped traffic in both directions near Machias Road.

Motorcyclist killed in crash had high level of THC

A motorcyclist had more than eight times the legal limit… Continue reading

Police: Driver threatens pedestrian, ends up in drug bust

Meth, cocaine and heroin were found in his car, along with a loaded pistol and cash, police say.

Son arrested for hitting father on head at Marysville home

The father grabbed a metal rod and struck his son in the head, too. Both needed medical treatment.

Cheering families welcome Kidd, Shoup after 6 months at sea

“I get back Daddy back today,” said one homemade sign at Naval Station Everett.

Paine Field fire chief will be allowed to retire

In his letter, the airport director noted Jeff Bohnet was leaving while under investigation.

Stanwood man, 33, killed in crash near Marysville

Speed may have been a factor, the sheriff’s department said.

County plans to sue to recoup costs from ballot drop-box law

A quarter-million dollars could be spent adding 19 ballot boxes in rural areas.

Mayor tries new tactic to curb fire department overtime

Stephanson says an engine won’t go into service when the only available staff would be on overtime.

Most Read