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Spread of pollution through wet soil by outhouses (pit latrines)

Next up the ladder of sophistication is the old-fashioned outhouse, also known as the pit latrine (see Figures 5.2-5.5). Simply stated, one digs a hole and defecates in it, and then does so again and again until the hole fills up, after which it's covered with dirt. It's nice to have a small building (privy) over the hole to provide some privacy and to keep off the elements. However, the concept is simple: dig a hole and bury your excrement. Interestingly, this level of sophistication has not yet been surpassed in America. We still bury our excrement, in the form of sewage sludge, in landfill holes.

The first farmhouse I lived in during the mid-seventies had an outhouse behind it and no plumbing whatsoever. What I remember most about the outhouse is the smell, which could be described as quite undesirable, to say the least. The flies and wasps weren't very inviting either, and of course the cold weather made the process of "going to the bathroom" uncomfortable. When the hole filled up, I simply dug another hole twenty feet away from the first and dragged the outhouse from one hole to the other. The dirt from the second hole was used to cover the first. The excrement was left in the ground, probably to contaminate groundwater. Of course, I didn't know I might be contaminating anything because I had just graduated from college and was quite ignorant about practical matters. Therefore, I plead not guilty to environmental pollution on the grounds of a college education.

Outhouses create very real health, environmental, and aesthetic problems. The hole in the ground is accessible to flies and mosquitoes which can transmit disease over a wide area. The pits leak pollutants into the ground even in dry soil. And the smell - hold your nose.

Spread of pollution through dry soil by outhouses (pit latrines) and pour flush latrines The Botvip Latrine: Botswana's rural ventilated improved pit latrine

Source: The Humanure Handbook. Jenkins Publishing, PO Box 607, Grove City, PA 16127. To order, phone: 1-800-639-4099.

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weblife.org | library | Humanure Handbook | Chapter 5: The Old-Fashioned Outhouse