Portland pee fiasco proves our lack of science knowledge

A couple of knuckleheads tinkled into a reservoir that supplies Portland, Ore., so officials last week announced they’re going to drain 38 million gallons of water. You can’t have human urine in the water supply.

What does this tell us?

That Americans have a “tenuous grasp of science,” Ars Technica writes today.

A half-liter of urine dumped in a 143 million-liter reservoir would get a urea concentration of about 3 parts per billion, according to Slate. (We calculated it would be a 50 nanoMolar solution.) Meanwhile, the EPA allows concentrations of arsenic in drinking water up to 10 ppb. Salt water has a salt concentration of around 35,000,000 parts per billion, or 600 milliMolar.

In an interview with Vocativ, the teenager in question, Dallas Swonger, denied urinating in the reservoir at all, stating he actually hit a wall instead. “I leaned up against the wall and pissed on it,” Swonger said. Swonger also contested the cleanliness of the reservoir prior to his actions: “I’ve seen dead birds in there. During the summer time I’ve see hella dead animals in there,” Swonger told Vocativ. In 2011, Shaff told the Mercury that the reservoir is not shut down for nature’s transgressions. “If we did that, we’d be shutting it off all the time. We fish out animals or things that have blown in all the time,” Shaff said.

Or maybe people aren’t that stupid about the things that are in the water. An unscientific poll by the Portland Oregonian found 90 percent didn’t think draining an entire reservoir was a good idea.

Last week, Slate calculated the ne’er do well would have had to pee in the water more than 3,000 more times to come close to the EPA level for nitrates in drinking water.

  • kevinfromminneapolis

    Can we use this to define science rather than how you feel about using this infintesimally small portion of Earth’s history to make judgements about climate change?

    • Try the analogy again but this time dump a bunch of arsenic in the water.

      • kevinfromminneapolis

        Can we define belief in science based on how much arsenic is okay to have in the water instead of how you feel about using this infintesmaly small portion of Earth’s history to make judgements about climate change?

        • Jay T. Berken

          But in this instance, instead of a person peeing in the 143 liter water tank, that people are using a fire hose times the number of cities in the world if you are comparing climate change and CO2 with parts of arsenic. That does not take into consideration that time factor of CO2 constantly being emitted compared to maybe 2 minutes to pee.

          • kevinfromminneapolis

            That is the greatest comment ever and should prove Newscut’s value to MPR’s execs several times over.

  • Duke Powell

    Hey, this is science….There is a consensus….. Right?

  • Duke Powell

    Don’t fish, other mammals, pee and poop in the water??? They do it constantly. If a guy wants to take a leak….. what’s the problem?