(File photo by Calvin Matheis)
When students take to the muddy grounds of Number Fest this year, they might want to consider what exactly they’re stepping, stomping or rolling in.
Based on previous years, the absence of permanent bathroom facilities on the festival property — coupled with an insufficient number of Port-a-Johns — suggested that the sanitation measures of the event could spawn bacterial diseases like E. coli, according to Athens City Councilwoman Chris Fahl, D-4th Ward.
“My take and others on council is that it is very difficult to have 15,000 to 20,000 people at an event and only provide Port-a-Johns,” Fahl said in an email. “There has been concern by both county and city officials about the event having enough bathroom facilities. In the past the answer was definitely no. Hopefully this year will be better.”
By the looks of it, this year’s fest — which occurs outside of the city’s jurisdiction and on private property — should be much more sanitary.
“The organizer of the event has gotten better at ‘covering himself in terms of security, safety and transportation,’” Athens Mayor Paul Wiehl said.
Dominic Petrozzi, event organizer for Number Fest, said 13Fest will boast nearly twice as many bathroom facilities as last year’s festival.
“We have worked with the city of Athens to find a more feasible number of restrooms and sanitation/wash stations on site,” Petrozzi said in an email. “We will have over 125 facilities on site this year versus the 65 we had last year. There are also going to be several sanitation and hand washing stations throughout the venue.”
Petrozzi also said the organizers are looking to create “a more sustainable festival environment” and will lay chips, gravel and shaved asphalt around the 20 food trucks where concertgoers order and eat food. These areas will be dubbed “dry zones.”
In terms of crowd-control, Petrozzi said there will be more than 150 security and staff personnel at this year’s festival.
Organizers also plan to double the Athens County Sheriff’s Department’s presence from what it was last year, specifically to patrol the neighborhoods surrounding the venue, Petrozzi said.
Athens City-County Health Commissioner James Gaskell and Ron Lucas, Athens deputy service safety director, agreed that an increase in bathroom facilities should help eliminate the threat of diseases like E. coli.
“It would seem to me that an increase in numbers of Port-a-Johns would decrease the chance of having water supply contamination,” Gaskell said.
Gaskell also explained that E. coli is a predominant gastrointestinal pathogen that is common in most human stool. However, if stool with enough E. coli present contaminates a water supply, it might lead to diseases such as gastroenteritis for those who consume the contaminated water.
Despite there not being any recorded incidences of E. coli in Athens County in 2014, according to Tonya McGuire, the epidemiologist for the Athens City-County Health Department, Fahl said there was a concern regarding E. coli contamination at last year’s Numbers Fest.
“E. coli is a serious potential health concern and if there is contamination of the nearby (Margaret Creek) that can impact people downstream,” Fahl said. “This just invites problems both at the event and to the general environment and people off site.”
Lucas suggested several ways to “mitigate the problem”, including an increase in bathroom facilities and event security along with having the sheriffs patrol the outskirts of the festival to police any misconduct.
“(Disease) is always the concern with public sanitation at events like these,” Lucas said. “How many Port-a-Johns are enough and how do we get people to use them? There’s always going to be people who don’t use toilets.”