The Pandemic Proved That Our Toilets Are Crap
The core technologies for sewage systems were developed over a hundred years ago. It’s time to get better, healthier updates in the pipeline.
From Chelsea Wald is an award-winning science writer who has reported on toilets since 2013; her first book Pipe Dreams is out now.
……A lot of the country seemed surprised by this seemingly odd turn of events—but I wasn’t. As a science and environmental journalist who writes about sanitation, I know that nearly every human drama comes with a toilet aspect, whether we talk about it or not. Urinating and defecating are everyday human functions, and health and economic crises such as the pandemic often throw into stark relief the significance of having access to a clean and safe place to relieve ourselves. Times like these can also betray the vulnerabilities in our toilets, and more importantly, reveal how they need to change in order to help us better cope with the problems of the future …..
…… It’s not only wastewater infrastructure that’s aging or at risk; the sanitation workforce is too. In the United States, the sector is facing a wave of retirements sometimes dubbed the “silver tsunami.” As the pandemic began, a few wastewater utilities, afraid of losing their critical, hard-to-replace older workers to illness or worse, locked down their facilities with the workers inside for weeklong shifts, so that the virus couldn’t enter. In India, sewer cleaners, who often come from a highly stigmatized caste, petitioned the government for simple personal protective equipment so that they could keep doing their critical jobs…….