By Branson Strasner
Anyone who has used a bathroom on campus has had to deal with the sometimes frustrating and disgusting automatic-flush toilets.
There are some issues with these motion-detector toilets, including water droplets being sprayed into the air during each flush — or water wasted each time the flush sensor repeatedly goes off as a person moves in a bathroom stall.
After a few tests by the Collegian staff, several toilets in Lockman Hall were shown, during flushing, to spray droplets of toilet water into the air, landing anywhere between waist and forehead high.
Exposure to these droplets can be a health hazard, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. The CDC said droplets from toilets can spread the sewage bacterium “clostridium difficile,” known as C. difficile, which can cause both vomiting and diarrhea that can last several days.
Studies show the most effective way to prevent airborne exposure to C. difficile is to have lids on toilets, and to shut them before flushing. But as most people are aware, toilets on campus — and in most public buildings — have no lids.
HCC Facilities Director Don Rose said the few toilets that were spraying water into the air were malfunctioning, and one in Lockman Hall has since been marked out of order.
A malfunctioning “siphon jet” mechanism on the toilet bowl was likely the problem; it can cause water droplets to be shot into the air during flushing. That mechanism will be replaced, Rose said.
Automatic sensors were originally installed on campus toilets in order to make sure that they were flushed at least once every 24 hours, he said.
As for other problems that occur due to the sensors, such as repeatedly soaked toilet seats or a spray of toilet water into the air, the sensors’ sensitivity can be adjusted to prevent accidental activations, and siphon jet mechanisms can be replaced, as needed, he said.
The nearly 500 urinals and water closets on campus may have their occasional problems, but the staff in the facilities department tries to keep up with reported problems and to address them, he said.
In the March 2 Collegian investigation of the bathroom situation, five-foot-long sheets of blank newsprint were held up in front of a bathroom commode as it explosively flushed.
On one, in Lockman Hall first floor men’s room, dozens of water droplets hit the paper, up to forehead high, leaving rounded, wet marks all over the paper.
A light shined behind the paper illuminated the droplet marks, showing some hitting as high as head level during the test.
In the men’s bathroom in the basement level, the toilet seat usually is wet, due to water shooting into the air during out-of-control flush events. Mopping it off is futile; that motion just causes more flushing.