APR 20, 2021 7:53 AM PDT

Warning: public restroom ahead, high levels of aerosol particles

New research on the aerosolization of pathogens provides recommendations for public restroom use. According to the study published in the journal Physics of Fluids, flushing a toilet can disperse aerosols with microbes that can cause a range of illnesses, such as Ebola, COVID-19, and food poisoning induced by norovirus. The study calls for the proper ventilation of public restrooms as well as the installation of toilet lids to decrease the spread of pathogens through flushing.

Conducted by a team of scientists from Florida Atlantic University's College of Engineering and Computer Science, the study takes a fluid dynamics angle to investigate the movement through air of droplets generated from flushing a toilet/ urinal in a public restroom with typical ventilation conditions. Using a particle counter, the researcher collected data on the size and number of droplets generated upon flushing in three scenarios: toilet flushing; covered toilet flushing and urinal flushing.

"After about three hours of tests involving more than 100 flushes, we found a substantial increase in the measured aerosol levels in the ambient environment with the total number of droplets generated in each flushing test ranging up to the tens of thousands," elaborates co-author of the study Siddhartha Verma, Ph.D., who is an assistant professor in FAU's Department of Ocean and Mechanical Engineering. "Both the toilet and urinal generated large quantities of droplets smaller than 3 micrometers in size, posing a significant transmission risk if they contain infectious microorganisms. Due to their small size, these droplets can remain suspended for a long time."

The study points towards the lack of ventilation in public restrooms as well as the risk posed by restrooms without toilet lids (as are most in the United States). "The significant accumulation of flush-generated aerosolized droplets over time suggests that the ventilation system was not effective in removing them from the enclosed space even though there was no perceptible lack of airflow within the restroom," said co-author Masoud Jahandar Lashaki, Ph.D., who is an assistant professor in FAU's Department of Civil, Environmental and Geomatics Engineering. "Over the long-term, these aerosols could rise up with updrafts created by the ventilation system or by people moving around in the restroom."

The authors warn that public restrooms could be perpetuating the transmission of airborne diseases, given that microbes can remain suspended in particles for several hours. "The study suggests that incorporation of adequate ventilation in the design and operation of public spaces would help prevent aerosol accumulation in high occupancy areas such as public restrooms," concludes study co-author Manhar Dhanak, Ph.D. "The good news is that it may not always be necessary to overhaul the entire system since most buildings are designed to certain codes. It might just be a matter of redirecting the airflow based on the restroom's layout."

Sources: Physics of Fluids, Eureka Alert

About the Author
  • Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
You May Also Like
DEC 21, 2020
Chemistry & Physics
Newly described hydrogen hydrate holds potential for hydrogen storage
DEC 21, 2020
Newly described hydrogen hydrate holds potential for hydrogen storage
A study published recently in the journal Physical Review Letters highlights the discovery of a new hydrogen clathr ...
JAN 21, 2021
Chemistry & Physics
Making the making of ammonia "green"
JAN 21, 2021
Making the making of ammonia "green"
For decades, economists and chemists alike have been dreaming of a hydrogen economy, where hydrogen fuels our global pow ...
MAR 12, 2021
Chemistry & Physics
What we still don't understand about photosynthesis
MAR 12, 2021
What we still don't understand about photosynthesis
Researchers from the University of Leeds and Kobe University in Japan have designed a new method to explore the still-mi ...
MAR 25, 2021
Clinical & Molecular DX
Police Speeding Radar Technology Used to Catch Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria
MAR 25, 2021
Police Speeding Radar Technology Used to Catch Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria
Doppler radars are used by cops to catch speeding drivers, in spacecraft navigation, and for forecasting the weather. No ...
MAR 22, 2021
Chemistry & Physics
What's all this about a "massless" battery?
MAR 22, 2021
What's all this about a "massless" battery?
Could a massless battery be possible? How could a device without mass store energy? If it were possible, what would that ...
APR 01, 2021
Cell & Molecular Biology
Solubility Factors When Choosing a Solvent
APR 01, 2021
Solubility Factors When Choosing a Solvent
Solubility Factors When Choosing a Solvent Solubility functions by a group of rules that determine how dissolvable a sub ...
Loading Comments...