No excuse for yuk along highways

The excuses being offered for truckers throwing containers of human waste along highways in Utah sound thin. In a story published by this newspaper last week, the executive director of the Utah Trucking Association said federal rules keep drivers from taking regular bathroom breaks. They are on the clock constantly and face relentless pressure to finish their runs quickly. In addition, the state doesn't have enough places for them to stop.

But those federal regulations weren't around in 1999, when the state of Oregon began considering hefty fines for waste dumping. News archives, including the one at this paper, are full of stories over the past several years of how cleanup crews in various states have to deal with this hazardous waste, which ranges from plastic jugs filled with urine to zip-lock bags filled with feces. From Nebraska to North Dakota, roadside crews have complained about hitting these bottles with their mowing equipment, causing a splash that can be best described as not only disgusting, but dangerous.

No, there is no excuse for this kind of behavior, especially when people report finding such roadside deposits only a few yards from exits where gas stations are present. The United States is not a Third World country. Sanitation here is a matter of personal hygiene and education. People generally understand the health risks involved. And yet the report in this newspaper said 45 waste-filled containers were found littering the interstate up Parleys Canyon during a recent trip.

But just as the truckers have no good excuse for tossing bodily waste out the window, Utahns have to come to grips with the possibility that this may not be a trucking problem alone. To our knowledge, no one has done a comprehensive study of the problem. No roadside monitors have looked to see who is doing the tossing. Anecdotally, some people have witnessed truckers doing such things, but it must be noted that, in an Associated Press story published out of Spokane, Wash., in 2002, a state official said she had a regular motorist admit to her that he had done it, too.

Health concerns can hardly be overstated. Clean-up crews risk infections and disease, as do bicyclists, joggers and others who happen along. If the problem becomes too prevalent, it could end up harming watersheds. It almost certainly already impacts the environment. In addition, two-liter pop bottles and milk jugs that are used to store human waste cannot be recycled.

Utah already imposes a $100 fine for the littering of human waste. It may be time to increase that to $500, as Colorado has. But fines don't mean a thing if perpetrators are not caught. The only sure solution is a sense of basic decency and civility, and that can be hard to impose.

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