Sometimes, in the giddy throes of class warfare (i.e. making fun of the Park Cities), one can occasionally lose sight of the bigger picture — namely, the basic human need to expel waste products from our bodies. We regret that, in gently ridiculing Highland Park's crackdown on portable toilets last week, we may have done just that. In particular, the line about how, in order to avoid befouling such an august municipality, construction workers should relieve themselves outside of Highland Park town limits, was not properly respectful of those workers' need — nay, their fundamental right — for a place of business that offers a sanitary place for them to do their business.
We were set straight on late Friday thanks by Karleen Kos, executive director of the Portable Sanitation Association International, which we'll refer to as the Porta-Potty lobby "I read with interest your item in yesterday’s Observer entitled, 'Highland Park Cracks Down on Unsightly Porta-Potties,' she began. "While the Portable Sanitation Association International can certainly support any effort that makes portable restrooms more appealing to the public, there were a couple of points in your article that bear some comment from our trade association."
Just so everybody is clear, the reason those 'unsightly porta-potties' have to sit there is due to federal Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA) regulations. Standard 29 CFR- Part 1926.51.51(c) requires that construction job sites make toilets available to workers on the site or “nearby.” This is because humans have needs (read: bladders and bowels). If the humans don’t have an appropriate place to take care of their needs when nature calls, they resort to inappropriate ones. In those cases, health and safety is compromised for the entire community. We can also safely assume some new things a tad more unsightly than the port-potties would be seen around the neighborhood if construction workers were put in that unfortunate position.
Kos, while she concedes that "designing something to make portable restrooms more appealing — or to camouflage them — is intriguing," she cautions against designers straying too far from established norms, for reasons of both cost and sanitation:.
Your readers will want to be aware, though, that doing this creates new challenges the good citizens of Highland Park will want to take into account. For example, these camouflage structures will not be free, so it would be a good idea to add some dollars to the construction budget for building and maintaining this new equipment. Perhaps the more important issue is that of cleaning these neatly hidden portable units. Most people don’t think about when or how portable restrooms are refreshed. Well, someone has to back a truck up to the units, get a large hose inside, and pump them out. They also have to spray down the entire unit inside and out to make sure it is clean, and then add pretty-smelling deodorizers and other supplies. So whatever bits of artwork and lattice are used to cover the units need to be both moveable and waterproof. This is so the units can be cleaned, and are thus not offending the neighbors’ other senses.
Lest you think the Porta-Potty lobby is against innovation and aesthetic beauty, Kos points out that, actually, the industry is already pushing innovative portable toilet designs.
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In reality, the portable sanitation industry has already developed more attractive portable restrooms. They look a lot like a mobile home or a construction trailer, and they are often used for outdoor weddings, PGA tournaments, and other events where VIPs may need to powder their noses. While considerably more expensive than the portable units covered in your story, they could be an alternative for the good citizens of Highland Park.
Of course I realize it would just be easier for everyone if this OSHA regulation didn’t exist or construction workers could “hold it” the entire length of a building project - but some pesky inconveniences have to be endured. I assure you that the portable restroom industry is eager to serve the public well, and we will work with anyone who wishes to help us do so. All that said, portable restrooms are a valuable service. We trust that Highland Park officials, construction companies, and homeowners understand there are no free lunches — and no free camouflage for port-potties either.
We have been properly chastened. Never will we make light of portable toilets again.