An Urban Legend That’s (Still) Not True
We here at Abnormal Use love a good legend: The Legend of Zelda; Legends of the Hidden Temple; City Slickers II: The Legend of Curly’s Gold; and for the ladies out there, Legends of the Fall. We especially love a good urban legend, such as the legend of the exploding toilet, which we recently came across in the news.
According to reports, a member of the Australian Air Force was recently injured critically during training when a port-a-potty he was using exploded. Ordinarily, the thought of an exploding portable loo would be comedic gold, as seen here. But not in this case. The airman was rushed to a local hospital where he received emergency treatment for third-degree burns to his head, face, arms, chest, and airways. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the airman, and we pray for his swift and healthy recovery.
But since this is a products liability blawg, it is only fitting and proper that we take a closer look at the Case of the Thunder from Down Under. The reports we’ve read relay an interesting, if dubious, chain of events that occurred immediately prior to the explosion. It has been suggested that the port-a-potty was not properly ventilated, and that some chemical – perhaps methane produced during the process of excretion – had been allowed to build up in the toilet to combustible levels. The airman entered the loo, lit up a cigarette, and the rest is history.
At first, this connection of causes and consequences seems plausible. Methane is a byproduct of natural bodily functions, and it is flammable. Case closed, right? The miracle of the scientific method has solved the mystery. And if we were to apply the same rigorous scientific methodology to other simple observations, we would come to the conclusion that Santa Claus exists because there is a North Pole, that the universe revolves around the Earth like the sun, and that thanks to Con-Air, the Rock, and Gone in 60 Seconds, Nicolas Cage is the greatest actor of our time. Scientifically, we know each of these to be false.
The same is true about the exploding toilet. Methane is flammable, but only under very limited circumstances. If this weren’t true, the tip of Florida would burn like a wildfire of Biblical proportions every time lightning strikes the Everglades. There’s also the small factual matter of how methane would be trapped at just the right quantity inside a port-a-potty. Even if every aspect of the toilet’s ventilation were sealed off perfectly, the user would still have to open the door.
The fine folks over at Snopes.com have previously debunked the legend of methane causing toilets to explode. The guys at “MythBusters” have done the same thing. Yet the legend inevitably limps on.
To be clear, we at Abnormal Use believe that toilets can and do explode. Not because of poor ventilation. But instead, because of: (1) some combustible substance other than methane being introduced into the restroom environment (intentionally or not); or (2) explosives being planted in the loo. Either way, we hope the injured airman finds out who’s responsible and gives them the business, Aussie style.