The protesters of Occupy Wall Street have been living in Zuccotti Park, also known as Liberty Park, since September 17, 2011. According to the Associated Press, 100 to 200 people, mostly young adults, are camping out in Zuccotti Park. Hundreds more, from a variety of demographic backgrounds, visit during the day to participate in the protest. With this many people crowded into a relatively small area not intended for habitation, sanitation is an issue, and a concern for the city. From the re-use of waste-water to problems maintaining personal hygiene, protesters may find their health at risk.
Protester Waste-water Use
One of the sanitation issues protesters faces in the park is the lack of clean running water. Protesters have set up a greywater system in the park to reuse the water from washing dishes to water the park’s plants. A typical greywater system reuses water from sinks, showers, and washing machines, in addition to dishwashing activity, which results in traces of food, dirt, grease, and hair in the water.
Graywater looks dirty, and is not safe for people to drink, but can be used to water trees and bushes such as those found in the park. Decoded Science asked Annemarie Cason, MPH, a Risk Communication Specialist who provides environmental health services for a state government, about the protester’s use of greywater:
“ greywater treatment system in the park should be a safe option for treating water that has not been used to collect human excrement and is not being used on plants that are being grown for human consumption such as a vegetable garden. The park’s plants are likely decorative and therefore watering them with the treated greywater should pose no danger to those staying in the park or the plants themselves.”
Drinking Water for Occupy Wall Street Protesters
Protesters use local restaurants and food chains, as well as bottled water donated by various groups, for drinking water. Any standing water in the park, however, as well as the greywater used for plants, can become a breeding ground for illnesses. “Lack of sanitation promotes the spread of many waterborne illnesses caused by protozoa, viruses, and bacteria,” Cason states.
The use of clean water for drinking, cooking, washing hands, dental hygiene and other water-consuming activities is essential in avoiding the spread of disease among the protesters, and potentially outside groups.
Zuccotti park, privately owned by Brookfield Properties, has a nightly maintenance schedule that calls for a power wash, trash removal, and thorough safety inspections. However, due to the large amount of protesters in the park, the park has not been cleaned or inspected since September 16, 2011; the day before protesters set up camp. According to Fox News, Brookfield Office, which owns Zuccotti Park, stated that the park has reached a peak of unsanitary conditions. A mass cleanup was scheduled for 7am Friday, October 14, 2011, during which protesters would have been forced to leave the park. However, the cleanup has been postponed to avert a confrontation between protestors and police, reports CBS News.
Personal Hygiene of Live-in Protesters
Personal hygiene is an ongoing issue of concern for the protesters living at Zuccotti Park. Some local businesses and residents of New York City who support Occupy Wall Street have offered their restrooms, showers, and laundry services to protesters, reports Bloomberg News, and donations from around the world have provided them with essential items, like toothbrushes and clean underwear. However, a large group of people living in a small area over a long period of time will cause sanitation issues to arise. The trash and waste produced by the protesters piles higher on a daily basis, creating a potential breeding ground for disease-bearing organisms and scavengers, and living in close quarters in the park is an easy way for viruses and bacteria to spread from person to person. According to Cason, “ Laws do not allow for the city to force the occupants to leave, the city should do its best to protect its citizens. Providing means for sanitation is important to protecting these people’s health.”
Matthews, K. Wall Street protest functions like a small city. Associated Press. October 8, 2011. Accessed October 13, 2011.
Perry C. Owners of Zuccotti Park Say Conditions Unsanitary From Wall Street Protests. Fox News. October 7, 2011. Accessed October 14, 2011.
Greywater Action. About greywater reuse. Accessed October 14, 2011.
CBS News. NYC “Occupy” showdown averted; Cleanup put off. October 14, 2011. Accessed October 14, 2011.
Deprez, E. Wall Street Occupiers Depend on Kindness of Strangers for Personal Hygiene. Bloomberg News. October 10, 2011. Accessed October 14, 2011.
Cason, A., MPH. Email Interview. October 13, 2011.