March 31, 2008 The Pump Handle 1Comment

By Vera Toulokhonova 

Over spring break, my family and I traveled to spend a weekend in New York City.  One of our expeditions included a visit to the Statue of Liberty and, naturally, to the large restroom located on Ellis Island.  The first thing I noticed about this notably modern facility is the proliferation of green signs all over its walls.  Each had a large, bold, green heading, which read “Green Restroom.”  I was curious to see exactly what constitutes a restroom that prides itself on being “Green.”

 Each green sign included the following text:

As part of our GREEN-SPONSIBILITIES this restroom offers many features that are environmentally preferable:

  • Water-less urinals (men’s restrooms)
  • Hand dryers in place of paper towels
  • Greenseal toilet paper
  • Low-flow toilets use less water per flush
  • Automatic flush on every toilet
  • Low-flow faucets
  • Automatic on/off faucets
  • Lights on timers
  • Only Greenseal chemicals are used to clean and disinfect

While I agreed that many of the above features are more protective of our natural resources, I was skeptical whether a few are really that “green.”  

The automatically flushing toilets, for instance, reminded me of the inefficient toilets in Ross Hall, at The George Washington University School of Public Health, where I go to school.  These toilets flush every five seconds in response to each and every slight movement of the user.  Traditional, manual flush toilets eliminates this wasteful use of water, since an individual is inclined to flush just once during her or his visit.  Likewise, I am also not sure how automatic faucets are advantageous from a “green” perspective over manual ones.

Regardless, I was glad to see such a strong effort at this national historic landmark to raise awareness and support environmental health.  Upon seeing these noticeable signs, people from all over the country and the world, will be introduced to the ideas of minimizing water usage and recycling – efforts they can incorporate into their own daily routines.  Consequently, these signs contribute to the overarching field of public health by bringing the issue of environmental health to people’s attention.  Furthermore, some of the “green” features (e.g., autoflush toilets, automatic faucets, and dryers) promote better hygiene by minimizing people’s contact with surfaces that may contain harmful germs. 

While the individual contribution of this restroom on Ellis Island to environmental health is quite small, it may just inspire a trend of green restrooms and thus greener lifestyles.  It has the potential to lessen our usage of valuable resources such as electricity and water, and to minimize our exposure to harmful fumes created by standard cleaners and disinfectants. Thus, I applaud this effort to promote “green sponsibilities.”

Vera Toulokhonova will be graduating in May from the George Washington University (GWU) with a BS in Public Health.  She grew up in Ulan-Ude, Buryatia Republic (in Russia) and later Swathmore, PA.  Vera is taking a class on health and the environment which has piqued her interest in environmental health topics.  This fall, she will be a first year medical school student at GWU.

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