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Flushing the toilet lidless could make you sick, researchers find

By Tara De Boer, writer

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    TORONTO (CTV Network) — If you thought flushing the toilet couldn’t get any more gross, think again.

In a new experiment using bright green lasers and camera equipment, scientists from the University of Colorado Boulder were able to visualize airborne particles, invisible to the naked eye, that are shot into the air when a lidless toilet is flushed.

While it’s been known by researchers for over 60 years that these tiny particles are released into the air upon flushing, this study, published in Scientific reports, is the first to directly visualize this to be able to measure how fast and far the particles spread.

Here’s the concerning part: these particles can transport pathogens, including bacteria, viruses, or other micro-organisms, that can cause disease, which could potentially pose an expose risk in public bathrooms.

These tiny water drops can carry pathogens such as E. coli, C. difficile, noroviruses and adenoviruses, and while many past studies have shown that these pathogens can live in the toilet bowl for dozens of flushes, the increase for potential exposure risk may be cause for concern.

The scientists reported that in just eight seconds the particles shot out at rocket speeds of 6.6 feet per second, reaching 4.9 feet above the toilet, the bigger droplets appearing to land on surfaces within seconds, while the smaller ones appearing to linger in the air for minutes or even longer, the study found.

The researchers note the importance of understanding the effects of these particles in order to mitigate exposure. “If it’s something you can’t see, it’s easy to pretend it doesn’t exist. But once you see these videos, you’re never going to think about a toilet flush the same way again,” said John Crimaldi, lead author on the study and professor of civil, environmental, and architectural engineering, in the study press release. “By making dramatic visual images of this process, our study can play an important role in public health messaging.”

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