ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Covid-19 Bonus: The Dreaded "Toilet Plume"

Updated on June 18, 2020
Laura H McBride profile image

I wrote about the "new" Clivus Multrum for Mother Earth News in the mid-1970s, then left that earthy subject alone...until now.

Source

As if Covid-19 hadn't asked enough of us—stay apart, wash our hands until the skin falls off, stay home to work if possible, keep the kids home from school—now there's yet another danger: personal excretions.

It was obvious from the start, at least in the UK, that public toilets were a problem; the public/municipal ones were ordered closed, and the ones people usually used when away from home—those in coffee shops, pubs and restaurants, or libraries, or department stores, or even the dentist's office—were unavailable because the venues were also closed.

This led, unfortunately, to reports of defecation by humans on the beaches of Cornwall on a sunny holiday weekend. It is difficult to close Cornish beaches—the place is totally ringed by beaches—but the loos are easier to police, and they were closed.

Whether it was the public poo problem that caused medical scientists to look at the contagion issued of toilets or not, they've been looked at now. The result? We must now beware the deadly “toilet plume.”

Having the cistern so far from the bowl makes for a mighty flush--and splash.
Having the cistern so far from the bowl makes for a mighty flush--and splash.

To Touch or Not to Touch

A great many of us grew up not shutting the lid on the toilet before we flushed at home because we thought the lid would be germy and didn't want to touch it. The fact that we would wash our hands aftrer using the toilet didn't seem to compute.

Then about 20 years ago, a few scientists began to warn about droplets created by a powerful flush, coating everything in the room with a mist of potential disease. Yipes! Time to close the lid at last as a matter of course, and wash the hands.

But what of toilets at highway rest stops? Huge banks of cublicles containing a toilet WITHOUT A LID. It did worry me, although I had got over lining the seats with paper before I sat, or, like most women, not sitting when I could hover. Still, the loud whoosh of those toilets convinced me they were, in fact, germ geysers.

After I used one, I'd make sure my clothes were in order, grab my purse off the hook on the door, get poised to scram as fast as possible, and then hit the flushing mechanism hard and fast, and escape.

I liked the flushing mechanisms where you just waved your hand in front of the electronic eye; no touching! Second best were the ones with pedals; who cares if you shoes got dirty? They'd probably picked up worse than that on the street. And few of us use our shoes as spoons. Worst, of course, was the handle or button that had to be pressed by hand--even though I was going directly to the bank of sinks and then to the towels or hand-dryer.

Dyson Airblade; Efficient, but at what cost?
Dyson Airblade; Efficient, but at what cost?

Even if Toilets Are Dirty, What About Sinks and Towels?

Problem: Paper towels were getting more and more rare. The electric blower ones were OK, except that they blew tiny droplets of water from the previous patron up off the floor. Worst of all? The Dyson dryers. You stuck your wet hands inside, and it uses powerful air blasts to quickly dry hands, all the while blowing your germs and everyone else's up in your face.

In 2014, The Telegraph reported that:

"Dyson Airblade hand-driers spread 60 times more germs than standard air dryers, and 1,300 times more than standard paper towels, according to research published in the Journal of Applied Microbiology."

Dyson claimed the study was flawed, and commissioned by paper towel manufactures.

On the other hand, the same article noted that University of Westminster researchers found that “the Dyson drier's 430mph blasts of air are capable of spreading viruses up to 3 meters across a bathroom.The standard drier spread viruses 75cm, and the hand towels 25cm.” I doubt public restrooms will be retrofitted to ensure 3 metres of space between each hand dryer. Paper towels may make a comeback.

No way to back away from either sink or toilet in one of these.
No way to back away from either sink or toilet in one of these.

Keeping One's Distance

However, the need for distancing from the hand dryers is probably minimal compared to the need to back away from the toilet and avoid disease.

The Washington Post reported:

“For all our paranoia about the surface of toilet seats — the tissue paper we oh-so-carefully lay down, the thin covers often offered in public stalls — germ transmission from skin contact is a relatively small health risk compared with what happens after you flush. That’s when bits of fecal matter swish around so violently that they can be propelled into the air, become aerosolized and then settle on the surroundings.

“Experts call it the 'toilet plume'.”

So mother was right after all. She loathed all bathrooms except our own, that she had cleaned well and often. I tried to get over that as an adult, and mainly succeeded. Until now, until Covid, when it seems that any ordinary life experience might send you from wherever you are to the local hospital's ventilator-land, a very unpleasant place to be.

The problem, in public toilets, is often one of the equipment itself. While some public rest rooms will have toilets with lids that close, most are open, like the ones on the UK motorways. (It could be worse than in the UK. The toilets on the French motorways are not only unlidded, but unseated, I suppose to make cleaning easier. But if you sit, it will be on cold porcelain and not a butt-friendly plastic seat.)

French squat or standing toilet.
French squat or standing toilet.
Garderobe, Peveril Castle, Derbyshire, UK
Garderobe, Peveril Castle, Derbyshire, UK

Which Sort of Toilet is Best to Avoid Covid?

Is there a solution? It isn't the squat toilets, of that I am certain. A great many people have trouble finding the place to sit (when drunk, etc.): Imagine trying to target the exact location of dropping when you are hovering like a Sumo preparing to fight, peering between your bent legs for targeting, and often without even a handrail to steady yourself? I've done it, notably in Cyprus. And I would never do it again. I gained absolute proof that most people can only manage to hit the edge of the target hole, or not hit it at all. If the flush is very powerful, “things” might well be sluiced right out of the shallow indentation and around your feet. (I do hope you are not having lunch while reading.....)

The garderobe, then? The medieval practice of creating an overhang on the upper floor of a manor house or castle, putting a hole in the floor and letting the fecal matter drop to a pile below for a serf to remove from time to time. Did I mention it was an uncovered mound?

No Distancing Allowed

Actually, the Romans might have had the right idea with their latrines. Except that they were mainly communal, they had something to recommend them: No toilet plume.

Users simply sat on a seat with the appropriate hole and the droppings dropped into a channel that had water constantly running through it to take the material to the sewers and away. (A bit ungreen these days, but with so many fewer people back then, the rivers could probably handle the material without causing cholera....mainly.)

There were two problems, though. First, of course, is that few of us want to do our business in front of (or next to) other people.

The second problem is worse: Wiping was done with a—wait for it—communal sponge. (It was rinsed in water or vinegar, but still.....)

If you don't mind, I'll just be sure I am wearing a mask, after public toilets reopen, and avoid the toilet plume that way as there is no way I'm interested in exchanging the toilet plume for a communal butt wipe.

© 2020 Laura H McBride

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://corp.maven.io/privacy-policy

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)