Atlantic Cities
Toilet Tuesday

Is the Air Inside Public Bathrooms Rife With Infectious Particles?

Hold your breath for the entirety of this Toilet Tuesday:

JURY'S STILL OUT ON THE HAZARDS OF SPUMING TOILETS

Germophobic? Then you've probably heard of the dreaded “toilet plume,” that cloud of aerosolized bowl water that rises up when you flush the john. In a crowded environment like a public restroom, where everyone is flushing constantly, one can imagine the air being misty with foul little droplets fuming out of the toilets. But is the plume virulent enough to constitute a health hazard? According to a recent review of the literature, it could be. 

The good news is that there hasn't ever been a proven case of infection caused by toilet bioaerosols, say researchers from the University of Oklahoma College of Public Health. But the process of plume generation – a flush creating potentially infectious particles that waft into the throats of subsequent toilet users – hasn't been studied enough to disregard its dangers outright. "Research suggests that toilet plume could play a contributory role in the transmission of infectious diseases," Oklahoma scientists write in the American Journal of Infection Control. "Additional research in multiple areas is warranted to assess the risks posed by toilet plume, especially within health care facilities."

CHINESE FAMILY LIVING IN BATHROOM REALLY WANTS THEIR KID TO SUCCEED

Toilet Tuesday has found another family living in a bathroom, proving it's not just an Indian thing. In Guangzhou, a mother and father are homesteading inside a six-foot-square space adjacent to a public restroom, while their 13-year-old son does homework on a board mounted near the ceiling. The family wound up in this cramped cell because, being rural migrants to the city, they're not legally allowed to enroll their boy in a local school. So they took a municipal job to get an exception to this rule, plus free tuition, which can cost as much as $13,000 a year.

The family is sucking it up as best as possible, taking bucket showers in the handicapped stall and spending their nights watching movies on a laptop. And it's entirely possible their neighbors might be living in a restroom, too. Here's the dismal assessment from China Underground: "It seems incredible that in Chinese cities, behind buildings, in the alleys, there are still families that live in these conditions, but it is actually the norm."

U.K. TESTS OUT URINAL-BASED PEE GAMES

Wired recently checked in with a curious advertising push happening in European bathrooms, and the results are fascinating. Captive Media, a high-tech marketing firm in London, has installed video screens above urinals in a number of bars in Britain and Spain. When somebody walks up to heed the call of nature, the screens switch from showing advertisements into "game mode." Infrared sensors detect where the user's stream of urine is going, and alter the action on the screens accordingly. In this way, somebody who just wanted to use the bathroom could wind up steering a skier down a mountainside infested by penguins. There's also a game called "Artsplash" involving coloring in a scene, and “Clever Dick,” which challenged peers to answer trivia questions by picking answers with their wizz.

The bathroom games, which are allegedly coming to America in 2013, have so far been a smash, reports Wired:

During the first night of live testing in 2011 in a Cambridge, U.K., cocktail bar, the UES was such a hit with a group of American servicemen that they spent much of the night in the bathroom trying to beat each other’s high scores, and coaxing others in the bar to head to the restroom to try it. That can’t have been weird at all.

John Metcalfe is a staff writer at The Atlantic Cities. All posts »

Join the Discussion