Michigan State University

Will Farmers Receive Porta-Potty Relief?

Jon Harrison
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Moving a porta-potty around a farmer's fields to be near where workers are working might not seem like the kind of issue that needs the attention of state lawmakers, but for farmers, it's a very significant concern.

Matt Smego, manager of the Manager, Government Relations Department of the Michigan Farm Bureau, explained that under current law, any time a portable toilet has to be moved across a road the farmer has to call a licensed hauler to do the work. Farmers can move the units on their own land, but down or across a road requires a hauler to do the work.

He used the example of harvest at a farm employing 120 workers. Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA) rules require one portable toilet for every 10 workers. And many farmers grow crops on fields that are not contiguous.

“If I have an orchard and I have six different variety blocks that I'm bringing in for harvest, say apples as an example, so those 12 units would potentially have to be moved six different times throughout the course of that work day,” he said.

It's a logistical problem just to schedule the hauler to do the work, he said, not to mention the expense. And farmers can't plan ahead for when they harvest, since it depends on weather and ripeness conditions, Smego said.

HB 4438, sponsored by Rep. Tom Barrett (R-Charlotte), would allow farmers to do the hauling of portable toilets and hand wash stations themselves. The bill passed the House last year and was taken up in the Senate this week, where it passed 26-10. It now heads back to the House for concurrence with changes made by senators.

The Michigan Environmental Council (MEC) opposes the bill.

“This bill would allow untreated waste to be hauled on Michigan roadways and any spill would only add to the E. coli crisis in our rivers and streams. So much for Pure Michigan,” said Tom Zimnick, agriculture policy director at MEC.

Additionally, MEC contends the language of the bill could also be interpreted to let portable toilets go up to 60 days without pumping.

“It doesn't take much imagination to understand what is wrong with a portable toilet after 60 days of use in the Michigan summer,” said Susan Reed, managing attorney at MIRC.

Smego doesn't read the bill that way. The legislation does allow for storage of units for that long, but other sections of law address how often they are pumped and cleaned, he said.

Besides, good sanitation for farm workers is critically important to farmers in other ways. And that includes not just portable toilets but the hand washing stations, because workers are handling food that ends up on tables.

Smego said most stores and markets require farmers to undergo Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) audits regularly.

“Most of our fruit and vegetable farmers in the state are required by their market to have to do this certification. This condition of field sanitation is an automatic fail if you don't pass it. So if I neglect to have hand wash stations as an example available for my workers, I automatically fail the certification which, for the most of the market, if you can't pass the GAP certification then you are not selling your product,” he said.

“For a farmer, they are risking everything if they don't comply. That's why this issue becomes so important.”

Smego said Barrett's bill has numerous restrictions that would require farmers to secure portable toilets and hand wash stations on trucks or trailers in a manner that would prevent spillage.

He said the Farm Bureau has worked with the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development as well as the Department of Environmental Quality to assure the regulations are sufficient.

Source : "It's A S----- Issue, But Lawmakers Take Up Portable Toilet Transport", MIRS Capitol Capsule, June 8, 2018.

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