Woman falls into eight-foot pit toilet retrieving phone, exposing herself to health risks

By Stephanie Srakocic | Fact-checked by MDLinx staff
Published October 5, 2023

Key Takeaways

  • A woman who fell in an 8-foot pit toilet along a Washington state trail attempting to retrieve her phone was unharmed by the accident.

  • Pathogens can survive for months in human waste, and this type of fall could lead to serious infection.

The Brinnon Fire Department in Washington State rescued a woman from a very unexpected situation. The woman was inside the 8-foot deep hole of a pit toilet along the Mont Walker hiking trail in the Olympic National Forest. She fell in while attempting to retrieve her phone.[] 

According to reports from the fire department, the woman accidentally dropped her phone down one of the trail’s pit toilets when she stopped during her hike. She initially attempted to retrieve the device using a dog leash, but this method was unsuccessful. She then disassembled the structure around the pit toilet hole and leaned forward to grab the phone, using the dog leash to support her weight. This method was also unsuccessful; the woman fell headfirst down the hole.[] 

Fortunately, she was unhurt by the 8-foot fall. She was also able to retrieve her phone. It was not destroyed by the fall or by sitting in the human waste material at the bottom of the pit, and she was able to use it to call emergency services. They reportedly arrived about 20 minutes later. Firefighters washed her down and offered her a hazmat suit, which she declined. Brinnon Fire Chief Tim Manely noted that she likely wanted to leave quickly.[] 

Injured while retrieving a cell phone

There have been some notable accidents that occurred because someone was attempting to retrieve a dropped phone. In 2012, a postal worker in Miami fell into a storm drain and drowned while trying to retrieve his phone.[]

In 2018, a Denver man fell into a garbage compactor while attempting to reach a friend’s phone, resulting in multiple broken bones and other serious injuries. In 2022, a teenager in Ortaca, Turkey, sustained fatal injuries when she fell from a building while reaching for her phone. Additionally, multiple people have been hit by roller coasters while trying to retrieve phones dropped while riding. [][][]

The dangers of falling into an outdoor toilet

The woman who fell into the Mount Walker Trail toilet was unharmed, but there’s a risk of danger when an accident of that type occurs. Even the fall itself can lead to injury. While standard porta-potties sit above ground, pit toilet holes are dug into the ground. On average, pit toilet holes are around 9 feet deep, and they can be lined with hard materials such as brick, concrete, or stone.[]

Beyond the fall, the contents of a pit toilet or porta-potty can be hazardous. The risk depends on who else has used that outdoor toilet and often how it’s cleaned. However, pathogens such as bacteria, viruses, and parasites can survive in human waste material for weeks or months. For instance, although there aren’t specific statistics about the exact pathogen exposure risk from falling into human waste material at the bottom of pit toilets, emptying pit toilets and buckets used as toilets has been linked to almost double the risk of hepatitis A.[]

A report from the European Commission on outdoor toilets states that:

“Sanitary structures can play an important role in disease transmission if they are not kept clean Fecal-oral infections can be spread through direct contact with faeces, contaminated material, or through flies or cockroaches. Latrines with floors contaminated with feces can transmit hookworm.” []

Human waste material isn’t the only thing likely to be found at the bottom of a pit toilet or porta-potty. Often, paper trash, food scraps, glass, needles, and syringes are tossed into the toilet holes. In addition, traditional porta-potties use cleaning chemicals to break down waste. Encountering any of these could be hazardous, especially for someone with open cuts or a weak immune system; additional risk comes from the possibility of a person touching any of these materials and then touching their mouth or eyes. 

The air in pit toilets could pose an additional risk. Pit toilets have vents to disperse the gas generated by collected human waste. A pit toilet hole that isn’t well-ventilated could be filled with hazardous gases such as methane and hydrogen sulfide, and breathing that air for an extended period could be harmful.[]

Share with emailShare to FacebookShare to LinkedInShare to Twitter