That stinks! Roadside 'potty bombs' creating quite a mess

SEATTLE - It's gross.

"It definitely has a huge yuck factor."

It's disgusting.

"I wouldn't pick that stuff up with my hands."

And, it's disturbing. Yet Peter Christiansen, with the state Department of Ecology, says over the past several years the number of bottles filled with urine and bags with feces found along Washington roads has exploded.

"You can see them from the side of the road," Christiansen says. "Just driving by, I estimated at least 200 bottles."

And that was just on one entrance to I-5.

These "potty bombs," as Ecology calls them, are visible from roadsides throughout the state. While cleanup crews do their best to keep these areas looking fresh, times are tight financially for the department's anti-litter efforts and Christiansen says the problem may only get worse as the winter months approach and crews stop picking up litter until March.

"It will be interesting to see what happens."

One of the places with the highest concentration of potty bombs, Christiansen says, is the entrance to the weigh station across from Wild Waves as you head south on I-5 in Federal Way.

And, then there's exit 47 along I-90, the first exit off Snoqualmie Pass. It's remote, with a wide shoulder and easy for drivers to pull off the road just long enough to ditch their deed.

"This exit doesn't go anywhere. It's a chain-off area, and a lot of the truckers stop there," Christians says. "We found a couple hundred pee bottles there."

Christiansen has gone to this particular exit several times, and during each visit he says all of the bottles are found on the right shoulder, tossed from the passenger side window. His theory: it's easier for the potty bomb perpetrators to have their crime go unnoticed.

The Department of Ecology use to provide litter prevention and enforcement along Washington highways. But just like the bottles, those efforts went out the window following a series of budget cuts.

"We no longer do a litter survey, and we also had to cut our awareness campaign," Christiansen says. "Signs are still up, but we had to stop our campaigns about four years ago because we had no money."

The department reports a 40 percent drop in litter pickup funding in the past eight years. Since then, Christiansen says, they've had to prioritize their work and decide what's more important: promoting cleaner roads or actually sending crews out to pick up the trash?

The blame for this potty-bomb problem can't be put on one particular group, such as truckers.

"We will have parents who have changed their kid's diaper in the car and then toss them out," he says. "We find a lot of balled up diapers."

Picking up litter along the side of the road is already a tough job but finding these bottles, diapers, bags and buckets of other people's business make it even messier. If you have enough time to relieve yourself in the car, then Christiansen says you should have enough time to wait and get rid of it the right way.

"There is no reason to throw it out. You have already handled it, so why can't it stay in the car? Most of the bottles have the tops put back on them anyways," he says.

Anyone caught tossing a dangerous item from a car or truck, which includes potty bombs, can face a fine or more than $1,000.