Got the urge to blow up a portable toilet? Sit on it

STAFF WRITERJune 24, 2009 

  • Male workers at Minnesota's Eveleth Mines tipped portable toilets while female workers were using them in a scene in "North Country," a 2005 film based on a landmark 1984 sexual harassment lawsuit.

    The Discovery Channel show "Mythbusters" discovered in March 2005 that lighting a cigarette inside a portable toilet won't cause an explosion because methane gas levels are too low.

    Until 2008, human racers sprinted across long rows of portable toilets while the crowd pelted them with beer cans in the "Running of the Urinals," a phased-out tradition at the Preakness horse race in Baltimore. Event organizers created a video simulation to replace the run.

    The National Park Service lined up 5,000 portable toilets on the National Mall during President Barack Obama's inauguration in January.

— Vandals of portable toilets: Consider this your warning.

After a state law goes into effect Dec. 1, anyone who "steals ... destroys, defaces or vandalizes" those blue and green plastic toilets-on-the-go faces misdemeanor criminal charges tailored to protect the devices.

The potential penalties for a toilet vandal include a fine set by a judge or a stretch in the county lock-up for as long as 120 days, depending on a person's criminal record. Not to mention the awkwardness such charges might bring to future job interviews.

Members of North Carolina's small but determined portable toilet industry pushed the newly defined crime through the legislature this spring, fed up with pranks that often leave them with busted toilets and a messy cleanup.

Carey Mack, operations manager for Raleigh-based Readilite & Barricade Inc., said the company has about 4,000 toilets, and he estimated as many as 200 of them a month are rendered unusable after being set on fire, spray-painted or tipped. It can take $500 to $750 to replace a standard portable toilet and as much as $2,000 for a handicapped stall, he said.

"I've been doing this for 18 years and I've been scratching my head for 18 years wondering why they're doing it," Mack said.

Though intentionally vandalizing or burning the portable units was already covered under existing vandalism and larceny laws, the portable toilet industry wanted a law that specifically spoke to their problems, said Joe McClees, a lobbyist working for both the N.C. portable toilet and septic pumper concerns.

Friendly reminders

Once the law goes into effect Dec. 1, owners can post warnings, similar to signs cautioning shoplifters in a store's dressing rooms, spelling out the repercussions of spray-painting witty messages on the side of the toilets. McClees said he hopes the new statute also means that law enforcement will take the vandalism more seriously.

Rep. Lucy Allen, a Louisburg Democrat, sponsored the bill after hearing about the problems from McClees and constituents in her districts.

"People laugh when they see a bill like this," Allen said. "But it really is a serious problem."

The passage came as welcome news to many in the industry, including Melissa Thompson of T-N-T Porta Potty, a Sneads Ferry business with 600 units that go primarily to construction sites.

Seasonal potty arson

Thompson has portable toilets destroyed when vandals set rolls of toilet paper on fire and the whole structure melts.

Fireworks become an incinerator of choice around July 4, she said.

The allure is beyond Thompson.

"If I've got to go in one of them, I'm not going to be in there long enough to be doing all that," she said.

sarah.ovaska@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4622

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