Australians are risking serious illness or death with dodgy installations of toilet hoses that contravene government regulations.
That’s the view of master plumber Murray Thomas, who has told 7NEWS.com.au the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated a major problem for Aussie plumbing.
“The douche spray has been around in Australia for a long time, it’s been a ‘do it yourself’ market that we’ve been concerned with for a long time,” said Thomas, the CEO of Western Australia’s Master Plumbers and Gasfitters Association.
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“But what’s happened with coronavirus is that people are looking for options because they’ve run out of toilet paper.
“What’s the next best option? Let’s get one of these douche sprays from Bunnings, whack it in, and I don’t need toilet paper anymore.”
The purchasing of douche sprays, or toilet hoses, took off around the country due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and a well-publicised shortage of toilet paper.
“It’s just gone crazy because people can’t find toilet paper, and this (toilet hose) is the next best option,” Thomas told 7NEWS.com.au.
“Bunnings sold out within a week from early March.
“There were about 700 orders on backlog through other suppliers, so it went to epidemic proportions where people were seeing this as the next best option if you can’t buy toilet paper.”
Unfortunately, the cheapest products were the quickest to fly off the shelves.
Many don’t have a valid WaterMark certification, meaning they don’t comply with Australian standards.
Dire DIY consequences
To make matters worse, these non-certified products cannot legally be installed by a plumber in Australia, meaning Aussies are fitting them themselves - with potentially dire consequences.
“One of the biggest problems in any contamination of water supply is back siphonage,” Thomas explained.
Back siphonage is the backflow of used, contaminated, or polluted water from a plumbing fixture or vessel into a potable water supply, due to negative pressure in the pipe.
“A back siphonage event can occur where the water from the toilet bowl can go back into the water supply and, once that water’s turned back on, you’re drinking what’s in the toilet,” he said.
“The plumbing industry is just all over it trying to stop any of that happening because if it happens you can end up with an outbreak of disease.”
The master plumber said the danger doesn’t end there.
He explains how toilet hoses present a “high hazard” to users, meaning the risk could be serious illness or death.
“A number of variables need to happen for it to actually back siphon,” Thomas said.
“But there’s a potential risk, it’s a high hazard. A high hazard means this could kill you if there’s an infection in this, it could either make you very ill or it could kill you.
“That’s not over-sensationalising it, it’s just saying it’s a high-risk situation.
“There have been cases where there’s been back siphonage from cyanide plants where the cyanide’s gone back into the water supply ... and people that are showering at the site are showering in cyanide.
“There’s been history of back siphonage events throughout the world forever.”
It doesn’t look like Aussies are getting the message to invest in proper equipment and proper installations, with the cheaper options still proving far more popular.
“On some of the packaging (for cheap toilet hoses) it says anyone can install it, which they can,” Thomas said.
“But to be legal it needs to have a fitting which is called a reduced pressure zone device, which actually stops any reversal of fluid going back into the system.
“But that device costs about $500 to install.
“So obviously people aren’t going to put them in because they’re (the toilet hose) an $80 item and to make them comply you need to put that device on.”
Most people who Thomas confronts about their dodgy DIY installations refuse to pay up to get the job done properly.
Instead, most claim the plumbing industry is simply trying to make a buck off the surge in popularity for bidets and toilet hoses.
“Most of them go ‘Oh well, I’m not gonna let it dangle in the toilet bowl, that’s my risk, let me handle it’,” Thomas said.
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“I think they think that we’re over sensationalising it.
“And they’re thinking that the plumbing industry is trying to create a market for themselves.
“That’s not where we’re coming from, we’re coming from a true health and safety angle.”
Over and above the health and safety implications, Thomas says those with dodgy toilet hose installations are risking a giant whack to the hip pocket.
“These sprays aren’t compliant and a lot of the ones online aren’t WaterMarked, (which means) they haven’t even gone through a testing process.
“And one of the concerns for consumers, and we’ve had this happen, is that once you install an illegal installation like this and the hose bursts ... you can’t claim insurance.
“If there’s damage to your house, because it’s not installed legally, your house isn’t insured if it floods.”
The ACCC has encouraged consumers wishing to purchase bidets and similar products to check it is marked with the WaterMark certification trademark and to ensure the product is installed by a licensed plumber.
“With over 60,000 plumbing professionals across Australia the safety of workers and the correct use of plumbing related products is extremely important,” Chairman of the Master Plumbers Australia and New Zealand Limited, Rob Pearshouse, said.
“During this time, we encourage individuals to avoid these DIY jobs that interact with the water supply and to also make sure they are only flushing flushable products.”