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#52901 - 11/11/03 10:44 PM Toxic Smell from Toilet
eric_w. Offline
journeyman

Registered: 01/21/02
Posts: 54
Loc: St. Paul, MN
Yeah, i know it's the oldest joke in the book, but honest... it wasn't me.

During the last few days, there's been an increasing odor in our house. Kind of subtle until I went into the basement where we have a rarely used bathroom and found the smell to be very strong. It wasn't a sewer smell or a gas smell, it smelled more like paint thinner or something chemical.

I checked around the basement until I finally opened the toilet and found that the smell was coming from there. The bowl was completely empty, no water. I gave it a flush and the water came right back and hasn't drained away yet.

One detail that could have something to do with this is that a trenchless sewer pipe company has been doing work in the manholes on our block.

My main concern is what was that smell and is this dangerous? (We have city water and sewer, not a septic tank.)

Thanks for the advice,
Eric



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#52902 - 11/12/03 05:10 AM Re: Toxic Smell from Toilet
Just_Bill Offline
Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 01/27/02
Posts: 20184
Loc: Wilmington, Delaware
Sewer gases can be pretty foul stuff, and toxic. But if you are still reading this, I would not worry futher. But there may be a reason the toilet bowl was empty. If it never gets used, it may have just dried up. But there could be a problem with the drain/vent, keep an eye on it.


Edited by Just_Bill (11/12/03 05:11 AM)
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#52903 - 11/12/03 11:56 AM Re: Toxic Smell from Toilet
engineerphil Offline
Super Handyman

Registered: 03/07/03
Posts: 2446
Loc: Stones throw from the LA coast...
I don't really understand that whole concept fully. Why is it that the water in the toilet would drain? The drain is connected to open atmosphere right? You should have 1 atmosphere on both sides. When flushed, the level of the water fills above the the trap inside of the toilet, but why would it drain otherwise? We have that problem when hurricanes hit the area. When the pumping stations go down, and there is flooding, the toilets get very low. Maybe the storm cell is causing the outside air (outside of the house) to be at a slightly less pressure. Inside the house would stay at the higher pressure. We also crack the windows if the storm is very lose so the windows don't blow out. Perhaps this is the answer?
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#52904 - 11/12/03 01:50 PM Re: Toxic Smell from Toilet
know_a_bit Offline
taught by my Dad

Registered: 05/07/03
Posts: 5135
Loc: Washington, D.C. area
The toilet didn't drain - the water evaporated.
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#52905 - 11/12/03 02:03 PM Re: Toxic Smell from Toilet
eric_w. Offline
journeyman

Registered: 01/21/02
Posts: 54
Loc: St. Paul, MN
Thanks for the info. I haven't figured out why the water left our bowl. We've never had this problem before in all the years we've lived here with the same amount of toilet usage.

I always thought sewer gas would smell like rotten eggs, but I read on the internet that it could smell like ammonia too. That could be a possible comparison to the smell I described as paint thinner.

This morning after the toilet had water in the bowl all night, the smell had pretty much disappeared, so I think I found the only source. I'm guessing sewer gas is not on the same level as Carbon Monoxide, but it's probably not a good idea to let an empty trap sit for too long. Any real health risks?

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#52906 - 11/12/03 04:46 PM Re: Toxic Smell from Toilet
Just_Bill Offline
Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 01/27/02
Posts: 20184
Loc: Wilmington, Delaware
It's not good to have an empty trap, period......so why was the toilet bowl empty???? What the sewer smells like might depend on how close you are to an industrial source, they often put things down there that they shouldn't.
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#52907 - 11/12/03 05:47 PM Re: Toxic Smell from Toilet
Dennis_H_N.J. Offline
Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 03/12/02
Posts: 25627
Loc: Toms River, N.J.
Eric. Fill the bowl and pour a cup of MINERAL OIL in the bowl. This will retard evaporation. If the bowl goes dry in less then a few months, you may have a vent problem!
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#52908 - 11/12/03 06:52 PM Re: Toxic Smell from Toilet
EAP Offline
Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 09/23/03
Posts: 11054
Loc: The HEARTland - Ohio
I know the answer to your question! The key was your inclusion of the fact people are working on the sewers in your neighborhood!

THAT SMELL IS IN FACT TOXIC!!!!! THEY SHOULD HAVE NOTIFIED YOU IN PERSON or at the very least LEFT A NOTE ON YOUR DOOR IF NO ONE WAS HOME! I'M YELLING because there was no excuse for their lack of concern! If you did not air out your home, you could develop some health-related problems.

Here's the cause: Nowadays, in residential areas, instead of installing new cement waste drains (tiles), they will install new PVC type pipes inside of the old sewage lines.

What you are smelling is the TOXIC solvents used to join these pipes! When they do this work, there is a siphoning effect that will (depending) on how close you are to the work - and it can even happen 2-3 blocks ways and you will be affected - siphon the water out of your traps! If you were home and listening to your pipes like around your sink, you would hear this sucking sound as they are trying to do their work underground.

Most of the times the lowest traps will be sucked dry! You indicated a basement toilet! A basement floor drain is often
a source of this as well!

When they have sucked out one or more of these traps, the odors of the solvents WILL enter your home! Big Time!

If it happens again, identify all lowest level traps like basement toilets and basement floor drain. For the Floor drain if you stuff a WET towel into the drain, that will prevent the smell from entering your home. If your toilet loses its water, you can do the same for it, just make sure you do not flush the toilet until after you have removed the wet towel.

Finally, raise CAIN with the City and those workers. Often they'll be out-of-town contractors!
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#52909 - 11/13/03 10:57 AM Re: Toxic Smell from Toilet
eric_w. Offline
journeyman

Registered: 01/21/02
Posts: 54
Loc: St. Paul, MN
Thanks for the insight EAP. Sounds like the contractor would have been right to warn us to keep an eye on your traps while tey're doing the work. I'll give the city a call and see what they have to say.

Since the workers have been gone for a few days, water is back in the trap and the smell is gone, do you think I'm out of the woods? Maybe we were lucky we didn't get sick and the toxic fumes found their own way out? Or would a few hours of open windows be a good idea?

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#52910 - 12/01/03 11:32 AM Re: Toxic Smell from Toilet
engineerphil Offline
Super Handyman

Registered: 03/07/03
Posts: 2446
Loc: Stones throw from the LA coast...
Maybe Eric's water evaporated, but my water does not. It disappers in 30 seconds. You can watch it go down. First there is a gurgling noise, and then you see the water receed.

Any other ideas?
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My two beautiful daughters know more than dad ever will.

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