Feces in the Air

By Joe Riedl|April 5, 2017Opinions, Student Writing, Top Stories|

If you’re anything like me (a small-bladdered germaphobe, whose inclination to avoid the common-cold probably comes off as haughty snobbery) then you’re not a fan of public restrooms. Here are a few of my bathroom turn-offs: door handles, pee-filled urinals, floors covered in pubic hair, and of course those god awful, cringe-invoking, vomit-inducing hand dryers that line the walls of very PCC bathroom. They’re sleek, not too loud, energy-efficient, but so, so nasty.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: “They’re sustainable Joe! The future of bathrooms! Save the trees!” And of course, complaining about those little devils after what our species has done to this planet’s ecology is crude, insulting, obscene, adding insult to injury. It’s just in bad taste to hate on anything “green,” however inconvenient or annoying it may be.

But come on! They’re just so gross. I mean we all know it. In fact the Bridge has reported on this for a long time: you’ll find the topic in articles like An Examination of the Hygienic Safety of High Speed Hand Dryers, Fecal Bacteria in the Hand Dryers?, Study Recommends Removing Air-Dryers from PCC Bathrooms and Just when you thought it was safe to dry your hands to name a few. There was even a song written about the hand dryers called “The Lighter Side of the Bacteria Story,” which includes lines like, “Now water is splashing up in my face. Spreading bacteria all over the place,” and “Floating fecal matter beyond detection. Now you know how you got that infection.”

Let me lay-out some quick facts from these articles:

According to The Telegraph, a British newspaper, “jet air dryers increase the bacterial content of the air around them by 27 times.”

A study conducted and submitted to PCC by Dr. Kathleen Richardson in 2013 found that “enteric bacteria [some can cause diarrhea] were cultured from 74 per cent of the jet dryer troughs and potential Staphylococcus aureus [of particular concern MRSA, a problem in gyms] from 63 per cent of the jet dryers surveyed.”

Dr. Richardson concluded that “paper towels were more effective at removing bacteria from hands than either air dryer method.”

Now, we all know they’re nasty, disease infested machines, but has anyone considered the fact that maybe they’re not as sustainable as everyone thinks they are?

We must first start by figuring out what “sustainability” means. Anyone who’s taken an environmental sustainability class knows that sustainability isn’t just about reducing the amount of resources used. It’s a complex system that is concerned with economic sustainability, social sustainability, and environmental sustainability. It’s not exclusive to saving the natural world (sorry tree-huggers).

I went to the About section on PCC’s website and found a link called Integrated Planning under the Administration tab. There, I found a link which preceded the sentence “In 2015, PCC published a strategic vision that has become the college’s overall map for ongoing planning and strategic action.”

Strategic vision, you say? Ongoing plan? Please, go on.

One of the “themes” here read “Achieve Sustainable Excellence in All Levels.” *click*

Overview: “Sustainable practices at every level of the institution will result in a consistently high level of service to students and the community, regardless of budget fluctuations.” Yada yada yada, what else? “Aligning PCC’s financial resources with its strategic priorities is essential for sustainability and will require investments in professional development, technology, ecologically smart operations and data informed decision making.”

Data informed decision making? I’m liking what I’m hearing PCC! Is there more? Why, yes there is!

Section six, part five of the Strategic Intentions reads “PCC promotes the good health and wellbeing of its students, faculty, staff and guests.”

And there’s your problem: the hand dryers don’t promote good health among bathroom-goers, which in this case is over fifty thousand students and faculty.

Thank you Portland Community College, for being a beacon of light in this progressive sustainability movement with your LEED certified buildings, solar farms, and old-growth forests. And thank you for including health as one of your top priorities. You even touch on the fact that decisions are made based upon data information. But if this is true, why then do you burden your students with something that hinders hand washing? Why then did you ignore Dr. Richardson’s formal scientific study and conclusion that it would be prudent to get rid of the hand dryers?

There’s a solid argument for paperless hand drying. For one, it saves money and with cash on short supply, the college will take it where it gets it. Also, it saves time. Think about every bathroom and every paper towel dispenser that would have to be filled probably every day, taking up many minutes that the dedicated workmen and women just don’t have.

So there you have it. On the one hand you have the hand dryers, an environmentally conscious way of drying hands that saves money and time; on the other you have paper towels, a socially thoughtful and health conscious way of drying hands, one that doesn’t promote disease. The hand dryers oppose PCC’s sustainability efforts and integrity (i.e., data informed decision making and public health), and the paper towels method is one that would set us back ten years in a time when we need to move forward when it comes to sustainable innovation.

For now, all you students, staffers, and germaphobes alike, keep on keepin’ on. Do what you do. Wipe your soggy palms on your pants, knee-punch the handicap door opener while flailing your dripping hands in the air, and stock up on the toilet-seat covers, because that’s all we got.

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