Fairway, Kansas – Don Sifers can recall everything about the first time he encountered a latrine. He says it was on a hot summer day at camp: "Camp Cobble outside Benedict, Kansas. In June. It was 95 degrees. It was the worst smell I ever smelled. It was awful."
Standing in his garage, in a button-down, pin-stripe shirt and tie, Sifers goes over a small-scale model of what he's calling The Mountain Air Processor.
It's a propane-powered converter designed to burn off the odor from a latrine's methane gasses. He won't give many details. A patent is pending. He's says he's been told he has something unique.
This isn't Sifers first effort at inventing. Heir to the Sifers Candy Company, makers of the Valomilk marshmallow patties, he later started a chemical company.
He created a widely used carpet stain-remover and aerosol technology now used for spray paints. He says he's not sure how he gets his ideas: "I took chemistry at Kansas, but I didn't like the problems and couldn't do them well. I think I'm inquisitive and ask questions more than anything else."
Sifers hasn't sold any Mountain Air Processors, but a research scientist from the National Forest Service came out to inspect it. The Army Corps of Engineers and some Boy Scout Troops are also interested.
(Sound Boy Scout Meeting)"WHAT DO YOU THINK OF WHEN YOU THINK OF EXTREME SCOUTING? YOU THINK OF TROOP 381!"
Troop 381 meets every Monday night at Corinth School in Prairie Village. Chris Denniston, Hayden Wylie, and Hunter Sodek agree that Sifers is onto something: "Would make our experience better. It would make the first years' experience better not to have that foul odor. Nauseous, lets just go with that. Also the smell stays with you. It just kind of sits there doesn't it"
At Camp Gieger,a bucolic Scout camp overlooking the rolling Missouri countryside just outside St. Joe, Supervisor John Clawson leans against the dark wood outhouse and says he can't afford to ignore this problem. With several Scout camps around Kansas City, will go elsewhere if the latrines are too bad: "We do evaluations of the troops who stay here and probably 30% will say something about the odor"
(Sound Opening Metal Box)
He opens the turquoise box attached to the back of the latrine, pointing to the mechanics and hoses that rise from the floor: "This fan you turn on. It draws the smell up. The gas is on. It brings the smell into processor, and burns it off."
It may not work as well on a hot day when the air is still, but on this breezy, cool day, the latrine smells better. At 8 thousand dollars a unit,it's a costly solution, but Clawson is considering starting with one or two.
This is not a new problem. The military long ago recognized methane from toilets is not only unpleasant, but can be explosive.
For almost 2 decades, the U.S. Forest Service has been refining it's "Sweet Smelling Toilet." Put simply, the systems allow airflow to maximize fresh air.
Forest Service Spokesperson Jane Cliff says all land management agencies have faced this issue: "To accommodate that human need, in the most environmentally friendly and ..what...pleasant way we can."
From an environmental standpoint, the propane-burning Mountain Air Processor IS cleaner than other fossil fuels. But some wonder why add ANY carbon emission, when the simple system we have in the woods, although primitive and perhaps unpleasant, has been working for thousands of years.