Ergonomic nonsense and health hazard: the modern American toilet

Ergonomic nonsense and health hazard: the modern American toilet

Just as an untold range of health hazards result from the rapid mass conversion to diaper-use, it appears that converting to the sitting toilet (in India called the “western toilet”) may have unforseen consequences for health and hygiene.

From Rose George: The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why it Matters

“At American Standard, the throne has been modernized by making it even higher …. even more ergonomically nonsensical than usual (squatting frees up the colon and aids defecation; sitting squeezes it shut and impedes release, leading to claims that the sitting toilet has contributed to increased rates of colon cancer, hemorrhoids, and constipation).

(page 61)

The above book also describes the persistent and yet unsuccessful efforts to introduce water into the post-toilet cleaning process in the USA. Of course in India cleaning oneself with water after using the toilet is standard and expected. Public toilets have a water supply – it may not always function, but it is expected to be there.

In Japan, China, France – the bidet is common and the Japanese have actually improved and further popularised it. But they are having a hard time selling it in America – and according to Rose George have shifted their strategy to market to the rich (Vegas Casinos, celebreties) rather than trying to reach a mass market. Even a toilet-tissue manufacturers attempt to introduce moistened toilet tissue failed even though users agreed that it cleans better. Although in US parents spend billions on wet wipes for cleaning babies bottoms, they rejected moistened toilet tissue for the non-babies.

even moisture aids elimination (as all ec-parents know!!)

so wrt cleanliness inside or out, it is unfortunate that this too was rejected. More unfortunate still is that india is aping the west and moving towards sitting toilets and toilet paper. Even a self-respecting country like France is moving away from the bidet, it seems.

More awareness of the impacts these decisions make on health and hygiene would help consumers make an informed choice. It should influence public policy as well. Currently the EPA recommends certain toilets over others.

Type of toilet impacts

1) quantity of water use
2) quantity of tissue paper use
3) ease of waste-management (some toilets separate solid / liquid, some toilets have built-in composting mechanism)
4) ease / efficiency of elimination (from the body)

therefore it impacts personal and public health, as well as environment and natural resource consumption.

Quote from
In his book, A Guide to Better Bowel Care: A Complete Program for Tissue Cleansing Through Bowel Management, chiropractic physician and nutritionist Dr Bernard Jensen identified the sitting toilet as a health threat to mankind:

“It is my sincere belief that one of the bowel’s greatest enemies in civilized society is the ergonomic nightmare known as the toilet or john.”

To quote Rose George again, from the same page (61) of her book,

“Even with all the flow dynamics and nanotechnology, the modern American toilet has actually only perfected the removal of waste from the toilet while impeding the removal of waste from the body. And the American public is happy with it.”

She also has a chapter on Sulabh, and interesting reports from China and Japan.

* * *

(responses to comments received)

Her chapter on Sulabh is a must-read – takes reader through the painful reality of untouchability, through the experiences of manual scavengers she has met. Places the achievement of Pathak (founder of Sulabh Shauchalaya in 1970) in context of religion, history, Gandhi, Bihar, World Bank. While he is widely admired (recognized by President of India, UN, even the Pope), he himself calls his work “a drop in the ocean …. still at the beginning of the beginnings …. we are a candle in the dark.” Rose George adds, “the dark doesn’t frighten him.” Sulabh has been effective not only in constructing public latrines that work, which 10 million people use daily, but also in offering alternate employment to people who had been practicing manual scavenging for generations, and also enrolling their children in schools. They fight untouchability daily and have had some modest yet remarkable successes. They have “[made] toilet talkable” – even politicians & Chief Ministers come and inaugurate them now. They have also constructed a toilet museum to “make toilets interesting.”

Incidentally Q2P director Paromita Vohra is the only critic of Sulabh quoted in the book. Would like to see Q2P and find out more.

Trivia: India trails Pakistan, Bangladesh in sanitation
Rose George recently attended the South Asian Conference on Sanitation, known as Sacosan. Apparently it was inaugurated by the Prime Minister. The Secretary of Defence moderated one of the sessions (see Notes on the conference are here

re: Ergonomics – isn’t it all the more important for those who cannot access a toilet at any time of day? so that they can do the job effectively and not worry about returning. But anyway, it’s a non issue as most public toilets are of the squatting kind, afaik.

re: Vogue / Need – While some may require sitting toilets, their rising prevalence extends far beyond need based on concerns of the elderly, overweight, or special-needs. In any case, the point is not to “move” anyone towards a particular practice but only bring up issues as to the risks and benefits of each, which we rarely talk about. (Hence Rose George’s subtitle “unmentionable world of human waste ….”)

Incidentally, we can pick up a few more important dates for our list to include in the annual calendar…
Nov 19 is World Toilet Day
Oct 15 is Global Handwashing Day


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