Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Choose Your Vice: Waste Water or Spread Germs

For the first time since the beginning of the flu season, I took time to read the signs posted in the bathrooms at work devoted to preventing the spread of germs. The signs advocate fully drying one's hands then—after one's hands are dry—turning off the water with a paper towel. It makes a certain amount of sense. Touching faucet knobs, which are home to millions of bacteria, undoes the work one has done by scrubbing one's hands with soap and water. But leaving the water running while one walks over to the paper towel dispenser, dries one hands, then returns to the sink with a paper towel is wasteful. And the illnesses caused by a lack of clean water tend to be much more dangerous than those caused by the bacteria that live on bathroom sinks. (There's also the matter of all the bacteria living on the lever of the paper towel dispenser.) I suppose one could get paper towels beforehand, but this would involve touching paper towels with dirty hands then setting them down next to a bacteria-covered sink. Until my workplace installs automatic sinks and hand driers, I'm not seeing a solution here.

(For more on the travails of hand-washing, read this article from Slate.)


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