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Ocean City's toilet problem: Cellphones and sand

Friday - 6/1/2012, 7:28am  ET

Amy Hunter, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - As Ocean City officials prepare for the onslaught of visitors this summer, they're paying special attention to a certain commodity: extra toilets.

The toilets get clogged when people wash their feet and drop their phones in there.

"The big smartphones won't fit down the hole," says Richard Malone, deputy director of Public Works in Ocean City. "But the smaller ones go down there, and you're never going to be able to reach down there and get it back."

It happens all the time, Malone says.

"People inevitably have their cellphones in their shirt pockets or their pant pockets, and they fall out and they go into their toilet," he says.

"You literally have to unbolt the toilet from the floor, remove the toilet, reach down into the trap and pull the cellphone out."

Each time this happens - which is at least once a week - a plumber spends several hours getting the phone out, Malone says.

"Then people think they're going to retrieve their cellphone and it's going to work. And you can't do that."

Ocean City's population swells to 300,000 on summer weekends - that's up from 7,500 permanent residents. It becomes Maryland's second largest city in the summer. On a weekend night, nearly 40,000 people walk the boardwalk, and Malone says the city works hard to keep those bathrooms clean.

There are six restroom areas on the boardwalk, which Ocean City calls "Comfort Stations." The smallest has six stalls in the men's room and 15 stalls in the women's. The largest station, on Worcester Street, has double that, Malone says. And when there is a special event, lines snake outside even the largest facilities.

"They're incredibly well-used," he says. "They're open 19 hours a day and have attendants all of that time."

Cellphones in toilets, while commonplace, are not the biggest problem. Sand is.

"People come off the beach and they will literally wash their children's feet, and sometimes their entire children, in the urinals," he says.

"It's thoroughly disgusting, but it happens all the time."

On 65th Street, the city has a stockpile of extra toilets so that those which can't be fixed can be immediately replaced.

"In the middle of the afternoon on a Saturday, there's nowhere to buy a toilet," he says. "So we have a plumber who comes in and gets an extra toilet and he goes into the stall and he fixes it.

"When you have that many people on the boardwalk every night, you have to have all of the comfort stations working at all times."

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Tips to save a wet cell phone

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)