You’ve got to hand it to David Shaff — the man is a decision-maker. As administrator for the Portland, Oregon Water Bureau he knew exactly what had to be done when news of the crime reached his office. A 21-year-old man had been caught on a surveillance camera urinating into the Mount Tabor reservoir. Shaff’s response?
All 7.8 million gallons of it, at an originally estimated cost to the Portland taxpayers of over $600,000. Sure, it’s pricey, but as Mister Shaff explained his reasoning, “Would you want to drink pee?”
The contents of one human bladder diluted in nearly eight million gallons of water? Yeah, I’d risk it — but then I’ve never been a fussy kind of guy when it comes to liquid waste disposal. I overheard my urinary epiphany in a restroom at Ryerson University many years ago. Two seniors, having finished their duties at the urinals, were preparing to leave. One was washing up, the other was heading for the door.
“Where I come from,” the guy at the sink sniffed, “they teach us to wash our hands after we urinate.”
“Where I come from,” said the guy heading out the door, “they teach us not to pee on our hands.”
There are lots of excellent reasons to wash your hands after using the john, but urine contamination isn’t one of them. Pure urine is actually sterile. Historically, men in battle have poured it on open wounds to foil infection.
And then there’s Moraji Desai — remember him? He used to be prime minister of India. Drank eight ounces of his own urine every day. Died at the age of ninety-nine.
Chinese medical practitioners have been prescribing the ingestion of urine for the past several centuries. The explorers Louis and Clark recorded that on their trips through the North American midwest, natives taught them the habit of bathing in their urine every morning.
And why not? Most commercial shampoos and skin creams contain healthy dollops of uric acid. Guess where that comes from? Less than three per cent of urine consists of urea. Another two per cent consists of minerals, salts, hormones and enzymes. The other 95 per cent? Just like the stuff that used to be in the Tabor reservoir outside Portland — pure water.
Clearly, urine is not the foul and toxic brew we’ve been conditioned to know and loathe. In fact there’s an entire school of medical practice called Urine Therapy which advocates urine ingestion as a treatment for everything from polio to pyorhhea; from glaucoma to gangrene. Enthusiasts claim that urine therapy is helpful in the treatment of more than 175 human diseases.
It’s tough to get scientific corroboration on the effects of urine therapy because, well, their aren’t a lot of human guinea pigs who are cool with drinking pee. What can be said with some certainty is while many practitioners claim to have been helped by drinking urine, there are zero reports of any negative effects.
So at the very worst, drinking a cupful of your own urine won’t do you any harm.
As for drinking a mugful of water from the reservoir that guy peed in, in Portland? You couldn’t even detect the urine, much less be harmed by it.
By the way, Water Bureau administrator David Shaff has subsequently scaled down his estimate of the price tag for draining the Mount Tabor reservoir. He says it didn’t cost $600,000 after all. More like $30,000. Plus $7,500 ‘disposal fee’. (A disposal fee? For dumping water? Has anyone checked this guy’s credentials?)
Still, better safe than sorry, I suppose. If Mister Shaff gets upset by one guy peeing in the reservoir, I sure hope nobody tells him what fish are doing in it.