Some of the many porta potties on properties throughout Needham/ Credit: Needham Observer

Have you noticed the proliferation of porta potties in town? There’s been a “void” in conversation about their use, and some might consider this story kind of a waste, but like any good reporter I set out to discover the facts about these boxlike plumbing necessities that seem to be everywhere thanks to the amount of construction going on in Needham. Should we be concerned that the rights of homeowners are being abused by random delivery people using potties put up for construction workers on private property? Do the potties put out fumes that drift to nearby homes? What are the regulations on upkeep — a gentler way of describing the job of cleaning the loos?

 Most people who responded to my unscientific survey on Facebook actually LIKE having portable potties available for those whose jobs or running routes make it difficult to find available toilets. Maureen Sharpe Kirshy, a Birds Hill resident, remembers when there was nowhere to go if you were out walking or getting a coffee in the neighborhood. “It’s no one’s first choice to use a porta potty, but if you gotta go, you gotta go,” she said. “Better to have them than not. “

 Aside from a couple of complaints about the unsightliness of porta potties, most people agreed they are the lesser of two evils. “I’d rather have a porta potty than people peeing on lawns,” said Karen Zarrow.   

Kara Mack had this take: “We’ve had one and would have workers stop to use it all the time. We were paying for it whether or not it got used. Why not help a person in need?”

My investigation did uncover public sentiment that there should be more public restrooms in town. Jim Blumenfeld said he is by no means a porta potty expert, as he’s spent decades NOT using them and is “just fine with that.” But he spent many years traveling for work and suggested we follow the European model of providing numerous public bathrooms. 

Lucy O’Mara seconded that notion. “Needham should budget to keep them clean and supplied with toilet paper.  Europe is more civilized.” As for why the public restroom at DeFazio Field has been closed since 2022, Needham communications director Amy Haelsen said ongoing vandalism forced the shuttering of that facility. Porta potties have taken its place.

Surprisingly, the town has no regulations regarding the set up of these generally temporary structures on private property. According to Haelsen, “Permitting isn’t required for a contractor to place a porta potty on a homeowner’s private property, as it is considered construction equipment. And there are no rules about their use. That said, there also have been no complaints,” said Haelsen. 

Perhaps it behooves us all to talk more often and candidly about such things. “Porta potties may be an uncomfortable topic but they’re the only refuge in a storm,” said Blumenfeld. He worked for a tracking company and once tried to convince his boss to create an app that would track porta potties.  The idea didn’t “go” over very well. 

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