August 16

Two reports of exploding toilet bowls in the neighborhood – what's that about?



Just now we received the second report of what, for lack of a better headline term, we’ll call exploding toilets.

We live just off Roosevelt Way Northeast on Northeast 94th Street and noticed when we returned from going out to dinner last night that both toilets (one upstairs and one downstairs) had, for lack of a better term, blasted the toilet bowl water out and onto the floor. We’ve no idea what could have caused this apart from a serious back pressure source somewhere in the city system. Anyone else reported such an event?

Yes. On Thursday we received this report:

Please let the other Maple Leaf neighbors know what happened to us when the Seattle Public Utilities vacuum truck was on our street this morning (Northeast 92nd Street).

They blasted air into the sewers with such force that water shot up from the toilets and shower drains, on every floor from the basement to the second floor.

Fortunately, all our toilet lids were in the closed position. We still had puddles around the toilets, but it would have been much worse if the lids had been up. So, if you see water on your toilet seat or lid, or around the toilet, you may want to get out a disinfectant because it’s likely that it’s sewer water courtesy of a blast from the same truck.

We have an email into Seattle Public Utilities, but probably won’t hear back until Monday. Both incidents occurred on Thursday, Aug. 16.

Does this sound familiar to other neighbors?

We are vaguely aware that “snorkel trucks” are used to clear leaves and other debris from storm drains. We can also remember an incident a couple decades ago when the toilets in the downtown King County Courthouse suddenly behaved in exactly this fashion. (Further, we think it was somehow construction related.)

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Sara W

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  1. I am so with you for fighting for pedestrians. I have a never ending battle with the city to just enforce the codes they already have for pedestrian streets. We can’t continue with the density until something is done.

  2. It’s fairly common in Seattle (north central and elsewhere) to have sewage back up into basements when there is rapid flooding. It’s as persistent (and ignored) a problem as poor water pressure in our neighborhoods and the lack of sidewalks. Council and the Mayor are simply more focused on “big picture” items that make better photo ops than fixing infrastructure. This is one reason why you can’t touch Thornton Creek in our neighborhood without bleaching yourself afterwards due to extraordinarily high fecal e-coli contamination.

    There was an elderly woman trapped in her basement during a flood event several years back. Floodwaters rushed into her home through the substandard sewer system in her neighborhood. She died. The city was sued. The city finally committed to fixing a problem they knew about for years. It was unfortunate that someone had to die for them to do their jobs.

    It’s a similar situation in Wedgwood. Neighbors have been complaining about unsafe conditions and speeds on NE 75th for years. The city only became interested in doing something after a tragic accident.

    We’re hoping the same drill won’t happen in Maple Leaf. SDOT uses the same 20 peds/hour threshold they use for downtown when deciding whether neighborhoods like ours get painted crosswalks. They have said we don’t have enough pedestrians crossing to our new park to qualify for painted crosswalks. They’ll be restriping that same area for cyclists, moving the traffic lane right next to the curb and increasing the danger for pedestrians — but no crosswalks for us.

    We’ll continue to work on these issues, but I have to tell you it’s very frustrating.

  3. Hi,

    We have a remodeled 1929 home. When purchasing the home, we did hire a plumber to video the sewer line and test the back flow. I was with him when he was performing the tests and asking all sorts of questions. Apparently, as he explained, there was an incident a number of years back in Seattle where a woman died by sewage intake after her home filled with it and she was unable to get out. Since then, it’s become code to install this system. However, the homes prior to this are ok unless you permit remodel work. I’m not an expert, but Peter has a good suggestion. Hire the plumber, see what’s up, and possibly have a backflow installed.

    Good luck!

    Btw, notice to residents should have happened. They know not all homes will have the valve.

  4. Most houses in Maple Leaf were plumbed before such things were required. New houses and those with reworked lines to the street will have them.

  5. I had a blockage in my sewer line and in unclogging it the worker found my back flow preventer valve had worn and we needed to replace it. It is code in Kirkland to have a backflow valve to prevent sewage from backing into the house. I’m not a plumber, but I guess it would also prevent a backflow of air up the line. Maybe all those who were impacted should hire a plumber with a camera and see if their backflow valve is operational. In not, a lot more than “clean” water in the bowl could end up in your house.

  6. This happened in
    Tacoma too when they were doing something to line the sewer pipes. I always keep my toilet lids down so it was contained, but still, some water got out & onto the floor & walls.

  7. David Miller: Rather than send an email I thought I should post the information referenced above (#7) in case anyone else needs it.

    Work Order: #3852724
    Truck Number: 30905

  8. I sent the email about NE 92nd St. I was alarmed when I heard roaring coming from the kitchen drain and the stopper was rattling so I immediately went out to talk to the crew. The man who identified himself as the lead worker told me this was normal but I went back out when I found that water was coming into our house. He told me that they would turn it down and also leave contact information with me.
    David Miller: I’ll email the work order and truck numbers for this incident to you. Two people from the city were out to investigate yesterday afternoon so they are aware of my complaint. Others should feel free to call Seattle Public Utilities to make them aware that this was not an isolated incident. They gave me this number to call: 206-386-1800.

  9. Hi neighbors, I happen to work for KIRO radio and would love to interview someone this happened to for a story (I live on NE 98th) this weekend. I am at if you have a minute. Want to make sure the city can’t ignore this. Thanks!

  10. This happened recently to my coworker who lives in Queen Anne, and it actually flooded his basement bathroom and cost thousands in repairs. No luck yet getting the utility company to pay for any of that.

  11. I work for a different city public works department, and am familiar with this happening. It is likely caused by SPU cleaning the sewer lines with a high pressure jetting head that pressure washes the inside of the sewer mains with a stream of water. If the operator has the pressure too high when they are cleaning the main near your sewer lateral, that water will go straight up your lateral, through the toilet and onto the floor. At least you weren’t on the toilet when it happened!

  12. When they were on NE 88th St, I heard a distinct “burble” for lack of a better term in my sink pipe without the dishwasher going or any water from the faucet draining into it. Checked out everything downstairs (where I’ve had water issues) and no water, toilets okay. Bet it’s all due to the sewer cleanout….perhaps they should warn us before doing it!

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