Peevish Pen

Ruminations on reading, writing, rural living, retirement, aging—and sometimes cats. And maybe a border collie or other critters.

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Location: Rural Virginia, United States

I'm an elderly retired teacher who writes. Among my books are Ferradiddledumday (Appalachian version of the Rumpelstiltskin story), Stuck (middle grade paranormal novel), Patches on the Same Quilt (novel set in Franklin County, VA), Them That Go (an Appalachian novel), Miracle of the Concrete Jesus & Other Stories, and several Kindle ebooks.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Info You’ll Want to Be, uh, Privy To

Warning: possible pseudo-educational content to follow (or at least stuff that isn’t about writing, rural living, or border collies).

On October 25, over on her Blue Country Magic blog, Anita F. listed 13 things that annoy her and asked for comments about other things that annoy her readers. I left a comment with some additional things that annoy me, but I forgot to mention a biggie: the lack of lids on public toilet seats.

Why is this an annoyance? Does the term “aerosol effect” mean anything to you? What about the name Charles Gerba?


In 1975 Professor Gerba published a scientific article describing the little-known phenomenon of bacterial and viral aerosols due to toilet flushing. The more you learn about it, the scarier it sounds. According to Gerba, close-up photos of the germy ejecta look like "Baghdad at night during a U.S. air attack." The article ominously depicts a "floor plan of experimental bathroom with location of gauze pads for viral fallout experiments." A lot of virus fell on those gauze pads, Gerba found, and a lot of bacteria too. In fact, significant quantities of microbes floated around the bathroom for at least two hours after each flush.

And from a New York Times story about Gerba's work:

That experiment led Dr. Gerba to create what he calls a ''commodograph,'' a method of determining patterns of droplet emission from the bowl. He has also used a strobe light to shoot a time-lapse photograph of a flush, which shows droplets of water, usually invisible, each containing thousands of bacteria and viruses, being ejected from the bowl. ''Keep your toothbrush in the medicine cabinet,'' Dr. Gerba advised. Though Dr. Gerba never published the photograph (he freely distributes it to interested parties), research from that experiment was published in 1975 in the journal Applied Microbiology.

Now do you see the problem? Public toilets have no lids, so they’re going to get you with the aerosol effect—especially since most of them require you to lean over the bowl to reach the handle to flush them. So your face is positioned . . . .

Well, you can do the math.

OK: In keeping with the general theme of this blog, here’s a “rural living” tie-in:
Back in the old outhouse days in rural America, folks didn’t have to worry much about the aerosol effect. Spiders, yellow jackets, the occasional snake—but not the aerosol effect.


For those eager to learn more about the subject (or for those with too much time on their hands), here’s a list of helpful websites:

More than you want to know about flushing:

Think before you flush or brush:

Your desk has more germs than your toilet seat. Read “Flushing Out the Truth” for the details:

Apparently, a toilet seat has been invented to take care of the "aerosol effect" problem. Anybody ever try the Miracle Seat?




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