More Proof That We Should Change The Way We Design Bathrooms

Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

Hospitals have a big problem, a bacterium known as Clostridium difficile. It has thrived in hospitals because it is resistant to many of the antibiotics we are so busy feeding to cows and pigs, let alone human beings who are sick and old in hospitals. It is often spread by medical staff who don't wash their hands, but a new study shows that it may be spread by flushing toilets.

Christopher Mims at Smart Planet writes that

It’s a process long known to hygiene experts, and it’s called aerosolization. Mythbusters did a segment on it and concluded that while toilets with lids up do spray water all over the bathroom, the risk associated with this process was negligible.

The study and Mythbusters don't exactly agree; the abstract describes the method used:

We performed in-situ testing, using faecal suspensions of C. difficile to simulate the bacterial burden found during disease, to measure C. difficile aerosolization. We also measured the extent of splashing occurring during flushing of two different toilet types commonly used in hospitals.

and the results.

Surface contamination with C. difficile occurred within 90 min after flushing, demonstrating that relatively large droplets are released which then contaminate the immediate environment. The mean numbers of droplets emitted upon flushing by the lidless toilets in clinical areas were 15-47, depending on design. C. difficile aerosolization and surrounding environmental contamination occur when a lidless toilet is flushed.

They recommend that toilet lids be closed when one flushes. I think we should go further than that and put the toilet in its own room, the water closet.

I have noted previously the work of Dr. Charles Gerba, who wrote that a toothbrush should not be in the same room as a toilet:

There have been found over 3.2 million microbes per square inch in the average toilet bowl. According to germ expert Chuck Gerba, PhD, a professor of environmental microbiology at University of Arizona the aerosolized toilet water is propelled as far as 6 feet, settling on your dental toothbrush inclusively.

Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

As I noted in my post History and Design of the Bathroom Part 6: Learning from the Japanese, we shouldn't be putting the toilet in the same room as the sink, period. Closing the lid or keeping the toothbrush in the medicine cabinet isn't enough; they should be in separate rooms. The new study just confirms it.

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Tags: Bathrooms | Green Building | Toilets