We Turn on the Pump and Event Attendees Start to Complain

Follow these three tips to eliminate odors when you service restrooms in a crowd

We Turn on the Pump and Event Attendees Start to Complain

Jeff and Terri Wigley

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Question: Occasionally we are called upon to service units during a special event. We sometimes have complaints about the odor coming from trucks while performing this service. What can we do to minimize these complaints?

Answer: The odor generated while servicing a portable restroom is caused by the air in the waste tank being expelled from the tank via the vacuum pump. In recent years, this problem has been addressed in various ways. Our research shows three possible solutions to this dilemma. We would like to thank John Marcucci of Walex Products, also a Portable Sanitation Association International member, for sharing his expertise with us.

1. Scented oils – Pump oil deodorant additives have been developed to mix with the air exhaust coming from the vacuum pump and waste tank. The premise here is that as the smelly air exhausted from the tank mixes with the scented pump oil, the odors will be mitigated. These oils do not change the viscosity of the pump oil and typically are added at a ratio of 2 to 4 ounces of fragrance oil (depending on the manufacturer) to a gallon of pump oil.

Caution: Please check with your vacuum pump manufacturer to ensure these additives do not void your vacuum pump warranty! We would suggest the “better safe than sorry” approach to be completely clear on the warranty provisions.

2. Exhaust box – This is a filtration box installed in the exhaust line just past the vacuum pump. This box usually contains baffles and plastic balls to which a scented deodorizing liquid is added. As the foul odor of the exhaust air comes into contact with the deodorizing liquid — either through the sloshing action between the baffles or when passing through the small balls — the exhaust air then leaves the box nearly odor-free.

Note: Since this treatment of the exhaust air occurs beyond the vacuum pump, there are no warranty issues with the vacuum pump.

3. Clean the waste tank on a periodic basis – The waste tank can contain more than liquid waste over time, as debris can adhere to the walls and to the bottom areas of the tank. This is evident when you discharge the waste at the treatment facility. In addition to the liquid waste, other solids and materials are expelled. Unfortunately, some of this residue is left behind and can accumulate over time. Some of this debris can absorb the waste, thereby creating odor even when the tank is empty. By opening the manhole cover and using a pressure washer inside the waste tank, this odor-causing debris can be washed out of the tank.

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Question: We get complaints on occasion from the public at special events about our units and our service. Most of the time, they do not understand what service we are providing or how portable restrooms work. How do we handle these complaints and also avoid this “misinformation” from then showing up on social media?

Answer: There are many tips for handling user complaints:

Work with the event organizers to educate them about portable sanitation. Make sure they are comfortable with the number of units at the event (usually based on the University of Missouri–St. Louis Study from 1986). These calculations on numbers of units have worked quite well over time. By the way, the PSAI is currently working on an update for these calculations. Ensure units will not be placed near food or other areas that could create problems.

Be able to respond to calls before, during or after an event. Make sure your company name and phone number are displayed on each unit and that you have an employee prepared to respond to any calls. When a customer has a complaint, they want someone to listen. For large events, consider an on-site attendant to promptly handle any situations that may arise. You should include the cost of an attendant or attendants and insist on them for very large events.

Be courteous and control your emotions. Many times the complaint is merely someone’s misunderstanding of portable restrooms. (“No, Mr. Customer, we do not pump the units every hour at that event.”) If the complaint is valid, have an on-call service technician assist or take charge of the situation. Do not be condescending, and listen attentively. Try to end the conversation where the caller and you feel that the situation has been handled appropriately.

If you receive a negative complaint on social media, respond professionally and in a timely manner. You could also notify the event organizer if you see a number of complaints about any other particular issue.

Conclusion: The public is the end user. They are your customer’s customer and ultimately your customer as well. While you cannot educate everyone about portable sanitation, your event organizer and the other volunteers associated with the event can be useful advocates. Organize your team to be able to respond to complaints and act upon them when necessary. Being prepared for complaints will make the special event season even more successful.


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