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Cottonwood Heights Journal

Proper sanitation practices vital for preventing disease in emergency situations

Dec 14, 2020 11:37AM ● By Cassie Goff

Individuals need to be educated on how to use proper sanitization practices without indoor plumbing. (Photo courtesy of Be Ready Utah)

By Cassie Goff | [email protected]

As part of emergency preparedness in the city of Cottonwood Heights, quarterly presentations on personal preparedness are given by Be Ready Utah. On Nov. 5, Brian Stinson discussed sanitation and hygiene operations for emergency situations.

“Most people don’t think about sanitization at all for their emergency preparedness,” Stinson said during the virtual meeting. This commonly leads to people becoming lazy and apathetic with their sanitization practices.

Not prioritizing sanitation during an emergency situation may lead to disease such as typhoid, dysentery, diarrhea and cholera. Stinson shared that during the 2010 Haiti earthquake a professional shelter was not disposing of waste properly, which led to over 1 million people becoming sick from cholera.  

“The No. 1 rule is to keep yourself and living environment clean,” Stinson said.

In an emergency situation, individuals and family units should be prepared to take care of human waste. In order to do so properly, Be Ready Utah recommends a kit to prepare at least two disposal receptacles.

“Liquids and solids will need to be separated,” Stinson explained. “A combination of liquid and solid human waste is extremely toxic. Separating them reduces toxicity.”

A two-bucket system is recommended. For the liquid-specific bucket, emptying safely and rinsing after use is recommended. 

For the solid-specific bucket, more dedication is needed. To set up, the receptacle should be completely dry before lining with two garbage bags. Then, a layer of kitty litter should be added to the bottom. As human waste gets deposited, it should be covered with kitty litter routinely.

An existing toilet may be best to use for either of these recommended receptacles. If using a toilet for solid waste, make sure to fully scrub and dry out the toilet of water. Line the toilet bowl with a large heavy-duty garbage bag. Then, place a layer of kitty litter at the bottom of the bag.

In setting up a restroom during an emergency situation, consider privacy and proximity. Stinson recommends using an already existing bathroom. In addition, considerations should be made for young children, elderly, and others with accessibility adaptability. 

Individuals may need to be taught how to use these facilities, as they function a little differently in the event that indoor plumbing and/or sewage infrastructure is compromised.

When disposing of human waste, make sure to wear personal protective equipment (PPE). Recommended equipment includes heavy dishwashing gloves, eye and breathing protection and non-slip footwear. 

If you’re in a home, Stinson suggests knowing where the infrastructure is in your yard so you don’t disturb any pipes. If you’re not in a home, consider a community disposal site with the same considerations that can be agreed upon by the neighborhood. For every living situation, consider multiple places for human waste disposal.

Dig a hole 200 feet from any living area or water supply. The hole should end up being about 3 feet deep and 2.5 feet in diameter. Empty the contaminants of your solid-specific receptacle into the hole. Make considerations to ensure that the solids are able to break down as rapidly as possible. Fill the hole until 1 foot is remaining, then create an ash or lime layer to keep pests away. Continue filling the hole and pack with a mound of dirt on top because it will sink down over time. Then, spray with disinfectant. (Make sure to leave the PPE outside.)

And make sure to have toilet paper. For both kitty litter and toilet paper supply, it is recommended to have “as much as you have room and budget for,” Stinson said. 

“Some people think they can just go behind a tree and that will be good enough,” Stinson said. Such a mindset can lead to human waste being spread around, disease transmission, petrified waste in soil, and an attractive element for pests (animals and insects alike). 

In short, here is the suggested to-do list: gather the supplies needed for a hand-washing station and a two-bucket potty kit; have sufficient supplies for laundry and dishes; make sure to have a good supply of cleansers and disinfectants (Stinson mentioned that most have a one-year shelf life), and identify a safe ground spot of disposal ahead of time.

Be Ready Utah asks Utah residents to “remember that in a disaster, you don’t rise to the occasion, you sink to your level of preparedness.”