GBlist: toilets

Ron Sutcliffe (
Tue, 11 Feb 1997 14:13:47 -0700

on Feb 7 Hal Levin writes......

"This could get into a very long and, for me, very emotionally-charged
discussion on owner-building and the code.....

And the current greenbuild listserv
discussions on compost toilets highlights a major battle - human waste
disposal. Nothing is safer than a pit privy, but try to do that with
government permission!.."

OK Hal I give you that you were emotionally invested but I will correct
you on the pit privy part if I may.
Pit privies were directly responsible for tens of thousands of deaths in
the mid 19th century in urban areas, which lead to the acceptance of
waterbourne sewerage technology. Pit privies and septic tanks can
develop direct pahtogenic pathways to watertables and wells. I know of
no pit privy which effectively excludes all vectors (possible
intermediate carriers of disease causing organisms,'pathogens').
Nitrate/nitrite infiltration from sources like pit privies and septic
tanks into surface and groundwaters poses public health risks. The pit
privy generally is anaerobic (without air) and the anaerobic microbial
population offgasses hydrogen sulfide which at ten parts per million,
OSHA says is the upper acceptable exposure limit. Hydrogen sulfide is
an immediate threat to life and health at 300 parts per million. The
advancement of society beyond the urban pit privy is thought to be the
single most important technological breakthrough since the industrial
revolution.... to this day!, having increased the quality of life of a
large portion of the population of the developed world mostly
irrespective of social class. There are some of us who challenge the
manner in which we have progressed beyond the pit privy, but very few
dispute the validity of that advancement.

Having said all that I will reiterate that I am not an avocate of either
centralized articulated urban sewage treatment or the rural septic
tank/absorption systems. Composting toilets can be a viable option,
even on a permitted level as long as the public health/pathogen issue is
adequately addressed.

It is our belief that many composting toilets throughout the US do not
adequately pasteurize the end product. The reason why we say this is
that it is not possible to guarentee pathogen distruction relying on
the biological heat of metabolism of the aerobic composting microbs, or
retention time alone. We advocate solar heat pasteurization as a much
more reliable method of pasteurization in a composting toilet process.

As researchers associated with the Appropriate Rural Technology
Association (ARTA) we are currently involved in a few new designs of
solar composting toilets. Our goal is to guarentee end product
pasteurization. From there we can more forcefully impress composting
toilets on the permitting/regulatory agencies.

We are available to teach workshops in composting toilets, solar heating
and pasteurization for a minimal fee (curtousy of ARTA)(slight
commercial plug). One of our designs should be available in blueprint
form latter this year. For more information on the SOLatrine design, a
fifth generation solar composting pasteurizing toilet contact us

Sorry about the long rant. no doubt this topic is important to us.

Ron Sutcliffe

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