CINCINNATI (TDB) -- The last time the U.S. Census Bureau counted, Ohio had 38,217 outhouses that people used when their homes lacked indoor plumbing for toilets. California was the national leader. And Kentucky was close behind (almost said No. 2) with 55,764 privies.
Not many Ohioans may have noticed but Gov. Bob Taft left office this week with an unheralded achievement under his belt. His administration adopted a new health regulation that outlaws having a permanent privy. Probably nothing to sniff at. Twenty years from now, it could be recognized as his greatest legacy. The ban definitely sits nicely with his idea of a Third Frontier.
The rule, 3701-29-15, took effect Jan. 1 and is not aimed at portable potties commonly stationed around construction sites, festivals and fairs. This is for a privy at home. Here's what the preamble says: ''The purpose of this rule is to provide for the storage of household sewage under limited circumstances. It is expected that the use of privies and holding tanks will be infrequent and the holding tanks would generally be used for temporary periods."
The new reg replaced one that had been on the books for years. Ohio's outhouses had to be at least at least 20 feet away from a building or a street -- which made pretty good sense even if it was a bit of a run to the can when nature called.
The old rule said the privy vault -- the business end of an outhouse -- could be open or porous on the bottom provided it was at least 100 feet from a well ''and so located that the liquids leaching from the vault will not discharge at the ground surface, or into limestone, sandstone, shale or other rock formations. The vault shall not be permitted where the depth to the seasonally high water is less that four feet below the bottom of the proposed vault."
The new rule says the vault has to be watertight, and must be pumped out when it looks full. And it can't be permanent.
There is a link to the new and old outhouse rules here
Some people might mourn the passing of the privy. A one-holer was the mark of a common family. A two-holer was a sign of status. And anybody who grew up in the country knew to lift and slam the seat a few times before sitting down. The slamming chased away the spiders. They always seemed to find a home in the "vault," which was dark, dank and fragrant.
The Census Bureau apparently did not tabulate the number of American outhouse in 2000. But this information about 1990s' count is up on a U.S. EPA web site: The Census Bureau categorizes U.S. wastewater disposal into three types: public sewer, septic tank or cesspool, and "other" means, such as privies and outhouses. In large communities (those with more than 10,000 people) almost 93 percent of the housing units are connected to a public sewer, 7 percent use septic tanks or cesspools, and 0.3 percent use other means. In contrast, about 61 percent of housing units in small communities use a septic tank or cesspool for wastewater disposal. Approximately 36 percent are hooked up to public sewers and nearly 3 percent use an alternative means of disposal. Other states with large numbers of small community housing units using outhouses/privies are: Kentucky (55,764), Pennsylvania (47,902), Missouri (46,223), and North Carolina (45,461).
The entire EPA document is here and the second page has a chart with the numbers of outhouses that were in each state.