BMA hits back at BBC ‘leaky loos’ probe

The Bathroom Manufacturers Association (BMA) has restated its commitment to reduce water wastage, including from leaking toilets.

Its comments come after the BBC’s ‘The Great Leaky Loo Scandal’ broadcast on Radio 4 yesterday in which water industry experts said that up to one in 20 toilets in the UK had leaky valves, blaming principally the dual-flush toilets that were originally introduced in 2001 as a water-saving measure.

The programme pointed out that these toilets have a drop valve instead of the siphon system used in older toilets and claimed that these are inherently more prone to leaks.

Commenting on the programme, BMA chief executive Tom Reynolds said: “We can see that a lot of valve failures were on old products. Materials, design, and reliability have since improved, and this is a very positive step. Continuous improvement of products is part of the industry’s lifeblood and will be ongoing.

“Bathroom manufacturers have spearheaded public awareness of water-saving products through the Unified Water Label and are leading the fight against wasting water. Dual-flush valves can benefit water efficiency by giving the option of a lower flush volume. They have helped to successfully lower flush volumes from 13 litres to as little as 2.5 litres.”

He further pointed out that routine maintenance could have prevented some of the problems: “Industry tests have showed that many leaks could have been repaired with some simple and inexpensive maintenance. Like any equipment, all toilet mechanisms, including valves and siphons require correct installation and occasional maintenance. We are working with partners to get the message across that repairing a leaky loo can be very straightforward and that preventative maintenance is a simple job that can save lots of water.”

And if consumers do find they have a leaky loo, water efficiency organisation Waterwise pointed out that many water companies, such as Thames and Northumbrian Water, will fix a leaking toilet found in a home or business for free.

BMA CEO Tom Reynolds

Reynolds continued: “Regulations require fittings to prevent the waste, misuse, and undue consumption of water and reputable manufacturers go to great lengths to ensure this is the case. Compliant products, well installed and maintained will not leak.”

Speaking exclusively to kbbreview, Michael Bennett, consumer marketing manager for Geberit UK, said: “At Geberit, our products are designed and manufactured to the highest industry standards and undergo a rigorous testing process at our accredited sanitary technology laboratory.

“Within the 800sq m facility, we have a dedicated flushing laboratory in which our flushing systems are subjected to extensive tests and continuous operation. In addition to being durable, our flush plates have to be functional, efficient, easy to use and easy to maintain.

“As policy, we carry out a flush, refill, flush, refill procedure at least 200,000 times, enabling us to stimulate up to 50 years of product use in three months. This means that customers can install Geberit flush plates with assurance that all products have received a seal of quality from our laboratories and meet the most stringent requirements.”

Backing up some of the comments by Tom Reynolds at the BMA, Bennett concluded: “We are fully committed to the reduction of wasted water, and as a member of the BMA we are continuing to work closely with other manufacturers towards educating users on proper installation and effective maintenance.”

The Radio 4 broadcast featured Jason Parks, MD of plumbing fittings manufacturer Thomas Dudley in the West Midlands, who explained: “Siphons use an air gap as a seal whereas drop valves have a seal on the bottom below the water line,” which he said is inherently more prone to leak. He added that in his experience, “drop valves can lead within a week of installation. It could be two years. But they will leak”.

Heap also talked to Andrew Tucker, water efficiency manager at Thames Water. He said: “The amount of water being lost by something so simple as a leaky loo is too big to ignore. At least 1 in 20 homes across the [Thames Water] area have a leaky loo. The average is 200 to 400 litres a day, so one leaky loo is potentially doubling your water usage and your water bill.” He added that some toilets they have examined were losing as much as 8,000 litres a day.

Not to mention, of course, the three billion litres being lost by water companies’ leaky pipes, according to House of Commons Public Accounts Committee figures.

Tucker told Heap: “A good, working dual-flush will definitely save water. But the water loss is now exceeding the amount they should be saving nationally. It’s getting bigger and bigger every day as more people refurbish old bathrooms.”

Parker at Thomas Dudley also suggested that his research showed people were confused about which of the two buttons to push in dual-flush loos as many designs, in his view, do not make it clear enough.

He told Radio 4 that he believes “the only credible alternative is to revert to using a siphon”, this despite his pointing out that dual-flush models are his biggest seller.

Speaking on the programme, the BMA’s Reynolds acknowledged that there was a problem but said, “we haven’t cracked what the underlying issue is”.

He also admitted than when the new regulations came in 20 years ago, there was some reticence in the bathroom manufacturing industry to allow the new types of products into the marketplace, but that since then, due to consumer demand, they have become a growing part of the market.

He added: “There is a commercial and moral imperative, with consumers’ growing consciousness of environmental issues, to make sure our products actually reduce leakage as much as possible.”

He told the programme: “We have opened a dialogue with Defra to have a conversation about how a meaningful set of regulations can come to the fore that achieve our mutual end of reducing water wastage.”

Waterwise in its ‘Leaky Loos Position Statement’ earlier this year called for a “nationwide approach to dealing with leaky loos”, to raise awareness of leaky loos among domestic and business water customers, fittings manufacturers, plumbers, house builders and government policy makers.

It also called for a review of conformity testing standards and approval schemes, as well as a scaling up of water sector best practice to find and fix leaky loos in domestic and business locations.

It pointed out that some 397 million litres of water is estimated to leak from UK toilets every day.

Dual-flush loos were first introduced to the UK in 2001 when the powers that be in Europe wanted to standardise laws and regulations across Europe, where they had been in common use for some time.

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