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


One vision for free India

One vision for free India

21st July 2006

[Kiran Vissa helped me translate this last chapter of Unnava Lakshmi Narayana’s novel Malapalli, published in 1935 (after Government & Univesity bans were lifted). Original page numbers in parenthesis.]





Freedom arrived. The Indian parliament and the state parliament had elections. They fell into working for the welfare of the nation with even greater perseverance than they had worked for freedom itself. Members of parliament are not mere puppets. Keeping in mind their duties, they came with the intention of aiding the welfare of the nation. When voting they kept the welfare of the nation foremost in mind. The members devoted their full time towards the work of the parliament. To prevent parliament from falling into the hands of the rich but to make the opportunity available for all classes, they recognized that unlike in England, an appropriate honorarium for a dignified living standard must be arranged.


Therefore, even when the members had other work or other interests, they were attending parliament regularly. Women were elected to the parliament in Andhra. Many labourers were also elected. No parties formed within these parliaments. Issues of great importance for the nation were clearly apparent to all, and therefore there were no debates to speak of. Many resolutions were approved unanimously. In the first year, out of zeal, more resolutions were passed than could be implemented. To be fully implemented, though it took time, it became clear that parliament was considering the welfare of all. In the first year, apart from resolutions regarding other issues, resolutions especially concerning lower classes were made:

First resolution: Concerns study of dharma

As a rule, all children, girls and boys, must go to school. Every one should also learn some vocational skills. In every town and village, all children should have access to schools teaching academic and vocational skills. That this was a key aim of the law was set forth in the preamble to the law itself. .

Poorest of the poor should receive books, slates, and writing tools. Government should not only establish its own schools, but also support schools run by religious and other organisations. Religious organisations were prohibited from teaching children anything unacceptable to their parents, and prohibited from religious proselytizing.

The legislative council appointed certain trustees, and set up a fund for taking care of the donations which were given in the name of a particular school or for the village.

Second Resolution: Libraries

For those who were unable to pursue higher studies, to see that their education did not stop after completing primary school, libraries with books and magazines and meeting places must be established. According to this law, some budget was given to each village to implement this. Third

Third Resolution: Alcohol

Alcohol is against the principles of Hindu and Mohammedan religions. Though this bad habit was established in the new circumstances, Gandhi’s noncooperation movement was able to keep it at bay. Strict laws prohibited alcohol. High tariffs were placed on foreign liquors. Whatever loss the government incurred by prohibiting alcohol, the government was able to recover through establishing factories and supplying country liquor to factories established by others, and using certain techniques, ridding them of their odor and extracting pure sugar just as that derived from sugar cane. In a very short time the government was able to generate profits as well.


Fourth Resolution: Settlements

Some jatis, had been involuntarily displaced and branded as criminal tribes, in violation of their dignity and their moral and material progress. In their settlements, competition among the workers destroyed their economic conditions. Therefore for those currently in the settlements, lands that were not cultivable would be converted to forest lands and these people would be alloted public lands available elsewhere. Arrangements would be made to impart handicraft skills. Instead of allowing workers to go to countries where they would be treated as slaves or bonded labourers, they would be sent to Visakhapatnam and Ganjam where lakhs of acres of public and cultivable land was available and would be alloted for them. The government appointed a Migration committee to oversee this process. In the first phase, the committee allocated financial assistance to those allotted lands.

Fifth Resolution: Regulations on applications

As per to these rules, with the exception of timber plantations and large forest tracts, all forests should be changed from forest land to revenue land and distributed with titles to backwards classes upon application. Where necessary, special villages should be established and the government waste lands should be alloted only to the landless communities.

The Migration committee set up under the law abolishing the settlement will also be responsible for distributing the land.


Rich people or formerly landed classes should not exploit backward class people in order to get these lands in their own name. Those who obtain land in this way will be required to surrender their lands without compensation. Within 12 years, the backward class person may make a claim to get the land back in his own name. Even if he fails to do that, within 24 years, the government itself could take over the land and redistribute to someone else.

Sixth Resolution: Houses

Backward classes have a serious housing problem. Malas and Madigas, Yerukas and Yanadis are not living in proper houses. These are just burrow holes. There are Mala and Madiga hamlets in which hundreds of families are living within a few square yards. Backward class families need titles to house plots, if there is no vacant land near the Mala and Madiga hamlets then the government must allocate other lands to them. Those without any financial means whatsoever, must receive financial assistance from the government for constructing their homes. These kinds of arrangements are in place in all civilized nations in the world.

Seventh Resolution: Labor laws.

Higher classes already have access to higher education and occupied all the good jobs. Backward classes are not in a position to compete with them. Therefore, currently, in police, revenue and civil posts, forest, military, all lower posts requiring no special education should be reserved for backward classes.


Eight Resolution: Law on Labor Unions

For trades and workers to prosper, labor unions are necessary. Rather than treating workers as animals, it is preferable for them to become aware of current events and develop their awareness. They will not be able to make progress individually, in the world, workers guilds are recognized as more civilized. In the old days in our country, handicraft workers formed guilds, and therefore their economic status would also improve. Labor unions should keep a record of their membership and activities. This is very important to develop the awareness of the members. These unions should be protected by law. As per this law, the wealth of these unions should not be liable to pay the debts of the members, or the losses incurred by management as a result of labor disputes, or for any governmental fees or dues. According to the Independence, since workers are also eligible to vote, union committee members with at least three years’ experience and who will be more knowledgeable, will also be allowed to vote.


Ninth Resolution: Khadi

After handspinning and handlooming went out of fashion and power looms arrived, in western countries problems between wealthy and labourers destroyed the economic conditions and became the cause of irreconcilable conflicts. Villages were ruined and became cities. Women lost their livelihoods. Ill health and corruption, the bane of urbanisation, rose. The traditional hindu ways of village governance had already answered these questions and facilitated simple solutions. Currently since these ways have partly fallen out of use, all the social ills of the west have begun to surface here as well. Khadi can to some extent stem this tide. For society, food and clothes are the basic needs. Grains are harvested by the men, and cooked by the women. To some extent women also help in farming. Women spin and men weave. In this system, women and men in the family have a chance to live independently. With the demise of khadi, marriage became the only way for women to have social security. Without marriage, a women would find it difficult to live a dignified life. This truth is borne by a folk song:

Why a husband, for us, woman, why a husband at all?

As long as we can spin our wheel, we can bring it home!

Even Srinadh glorified the spinning wheel.

A kaduruna Sukaravamunu
Akduruna bhrungavaramu Atmavambun
yEkIkrutamuga yEkula
nEkulu vina vaDikE mudira yEkulamudira

High tariffs will be imposed on imported textiles and threads. In order to produce enough handspun cloth for daily needs as well as finer threads to earn enough money through spinning, the best scientists should develop spinning wheels to improve quality and quantity of yield. The government should support these efforts.

[to be continued]

NOTE:  Interested in more about Malapalli & me: See “Charting New Territory: Unnava’s Experiment in Telugu Realism” in eemaata magazine.