I'm trying to figure out the mechanics of this, and the most likely culprit seems to be that a whole bunch of toilets in this building were replaced with the sort of modern low-flow toilet that includes an "accumulator" pressure vessel inside the porcelain cistern.
Toilets are dangerous places! My mother's best friend sat down on a toilet in New Zealand right beside an unseen spider which bit her. She leapt up, landed again on the toilet, and broke the toilet, resulting in massive bleeding and many stitches at the hospital. She's still alive, bless her soul, so I'll mention no names....
It sounds like water hammer. You can experience the same thing if you have a sink you haven't used for a couple of months and then open the valve rapidly. This is a serious problem with maintenance work in pressurized systems. You need to fill, vent, and re-pressurize properly otherwise the water hammer can rip apart the system, especially if it is high temperature and pressure, such as what you might see in a power plant.
Air, as a gas, is compressible. Water, a liquid, is not. If the pipes were drained during maintenance, when the water is turned back on it will compress the air in the pipes into whatever space it can. Air pressures of hundreds of PSI are possible, possibly with a head of water in front of it... not good when suddenly released into something brittle like porcelain.
My stock comment for stories like this:
It is because of this that an experienced plumber or maintenance personnel will turn water back on slowly, with the topmost fixture open in order to bleed the air out of the system.
Many small things frequently overlooked by people who don't often do plumbing work can cause huge problems, and it is hard to get all the information you need for any project if you don't even know what questions to ask.
This is why people should seek help from professionals, unless the plumbing problem in question is extremely simple.
The website said Pierre was briefly knocked unconscious and covered in
blood by the explosion on October 2 in Brooklyn, an increasingly
well-heeled part of New York.
Blood: the worst bodily fluid to be covered in following a toilet explosion? Discuss.
Sigh. Having lived in a VERY poorly maintained building for over 10 years in Queens, this does NOT surprise me in the least. We had a similar air-pressure problem that led to a pipe under my sink exploding--as in actually bursting. It was an ancient U-bend that had been shoddily replaced and taped over the years. He tried to blame me for the subsequent flooding, claiming that items stored under my sink had caused the explosive rupture (yeah, a bottle of bleach, toilet cleaner, and dish detergent that MAY bump up against a pipe does NOT cause that).
New York landlords are the worst. I have also found that we have more water pressure issues in the winter, when the LL plays games with the hot water, which leads to more air in the pipes when everyone tries to take a shower at once.
It doesn't appear to be the cause here but over 2 million Flushmate Pressure-Assisted toilets were recalled because of explosion and laceration hazards.
I have a pressure assisted toilet in my apartment and this picture had me crawling on the bathroom floor to check the model number:
New York does have awesome Mexican food.
It sure does, especially Queens. We have pretty much every awesome (insert ethnicity of food) food known on the planet that is legal to import (or not; lots of markets still sell stuff like frozen cui from Ecuador that is iffy, for example).
Looping back to the topic at hand, the only places that I have ever gotten rip-roaring food poisoning from in NYC were, to wit, the Yale Club (yes, really) and networking events where the food was out for G-d knows how long. Otherwise I eat street meat all the time--the fact that it's insanely fresh and blazing hot no doubt helps.
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