ANNAPOLIS – Portable toilets are a fact of life. And Maryland Delegate John G. Trueschler has nothing against them.
“By the time you get to be an adult you have probably been in half a dozen portable toilets,” Trueschler said.
What gets under his skin is not having a place to wash his hands.
Trueschler, R-Baltimore County, coaches children’s soccer on fields where portable toilets are often the only facilities.
“You’ve got little kids playing soccer and they go to slap their teammates’ high-five . . . then they all go get burgers,” Trueschler said. “The people using these things should have some means of washing their hands.”
To combat the grime, Trueschler has proposed legislation that would require all portable toilets in Maryland to include some kind of hand washing facility.
He got the idea after using a waterless soap dispenser in a portable toilet at a soccer game. Afterwards he called toilet rental companies and was told that several types of hand washing facilities were available but not mandatory. He could not find any state or local health agencies that had regulations about washing facilities in portable toilets.
“It’s embarrassing that we don’t have any regulations in place,” he said. Scientific research supports the common-sense message that Trueschler said he learned from his parents: washing your hands after using the bathroom and before eating helps prevent illness.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, hand washing prevents colds and other more serious diseases such as hepatitis A, meningitis and infectious diarrhea.
Yet CDC estimates that one in three people do not wash their hands after using the restroom.
“I’m not one to feel that you have to open doors with your elbows and cover your hands,” said Stuart Levy, an expert on hand washing and antibiotic resistant bacteria at Tufts University. “But you should wash your hands whether you use a public bathroom or a private bathroom.”
Levy said there is no evidence that any one type of soap is better at killing germs. He said bar soap and alcohol-based liquid soaps work well
“Just a good sudsy soap and water, you don’t need anything else in it,” he said.
In fact, some researchers are concerned that certain types of antibacterial soaps might encourage the development of antibiotic resistance in bacteria.
Laboratory studies have shown that triclosan – the active ingredient in many of these soaps – and other similar compounds have allowed resistant bacteria to develop, Levy said.
But he does think the marketing of antibacterial soaps to the consumer market has made people more conscious of hand hygiene.
Trueschler said his proposal would leave the choice of what kind of soaps and facilities would be required up to the experts in Maryland’s state health care agencies.
If antibiotic soap is ill-advised, he said, a bar of soap and some water would suit him fine.
“It’s such a simple thing to do,” he said.
There are an estimated 1.4 million portable toilets in use worldwide, according to Portable Sanitation Association International, an association of toilet rental companies.
People throwing special events like weddings or parties usually pay an extra $10 to $30 to get a washing facility, said William Venizelos, the owner of Cheryl’s Chalets, a Glen Burnie rental company whose motto is “Where you go . . . we go!!”
He said construction companies, one of the major users of portable toilets, rarely rent more than the basic toilet and often provide the bare minimum number of toilets for workers.
Venizelos said the industry recommends that construction sites be outfitted with one toilet per 10 workers, assuming a 40-hour work week. But Maryland follows federal regulations that require construction companies to provide only one toilet for every 20 workers.
“Most of the contractors will try to get away with one,” he said.
William Carroll, president of Portable Sanitation Association International, supports Trueschler’s proposal. “Every time you go into your house you expect to be able to wash your hands,” he said. “Why wouldn’t we expect it for construction workers and the general public?”