Toilet system recalled due to explosion risk

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 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 101/2;-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.

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