Can Super Bowl bathroom breaks cripple sewer systems?

Consumer Reports News: February 02, 2008 03:09 AM

Super Bowl XLII will take place on Sunday, February 3, in Glendale, Arizona, with the undefeated New England Patriots taking on the New York Giants. If you’re one of the millions of Americans who’ll enjoy some refreshing beverages while watching the intense on-field action on Fox, a halftime toilet break is a distinct possibility.

What would happen if every household in your town or city were to flush a toilet at about the same moment right after the end of the second quarter? That’s the issue behind the “halftime flush,” an oft-repeated yarn that surfaces annually around the NFL championship game. This urban legend suggests that all that flushing could cripple municipal water and sewer systems.

Commonly cited proof of this tall toilet tale is the event that took place during Super Bowl XVIII on January 22, 1984. As the showdown between the Los Angeles Raiders and the Washington Redskins progressed in Tampa, Florida, a 16-inch water main ruptured in Salt Lake City. LeRoy W. Hooton Jr., the recently retired director of the Department of Public Utilities for the Utah capital, recollects that the burst pipe caused quite a mess. (The Raiders flushed the Redskins, thumping Washington 38-9.)

The subsequent media attention turned into a flood of its own, particularly after a public-utilities field supervisor told a reporter that the “Super Bowl flush” was to blame. In reality, says Hooton, the aging Salt Lake City water system had been experiencing about 300 waterline breaks a year, meaning the 1984 incident was not an unusual occurrence.

“I was in the water works profession for over 49 years and I don’t think the Super Bowl had anything to do with the break,” says Hooton. “As I recall, there was neither an increase or decrease in pressure measured in the water-distribution system before the break. However, once the ‘Super Bowl flush’ statement was published, it caught on and continues to surface every year at this time.”

We think it’s time to flush this myth—before halftime.

Essential information: If your Super Bowl gathering highlights the inadequacies of the facilities at your home, read our expert advice on choosing the right type of toilet. For overall design help with a bathroom remodel, “Bathroom Makeovers: Relaxing Retreats for Less” will guide you through the process.


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