San Francisco Is Using Super-Hydrophobic Paint to Punish Public Urinators

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Bad news for Bay Area drunks: A new San Francisco Public Works initiative is having select walls covered in hydrophobic paint to bounce back urine onto its assailants.

The city got the idea from Hamburg, Germany, where the technology has been recently utilized to keep people from peeing on everything in the city's nightlife quarter of St. Pauli.

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"We are piloting it to see if we can discourage people from peeing at many of our hot spots," Public Works director Mohammed Nuru said, according to SFGate. "Nobody wants to smell urine. We are trying different things to try to make San Francisco smell nice and look beautiful."

The hydrophobic coating is called Ultra-Ever Dry, a "super-hydrophobic" product that repels almost all liquids by creating an almost invisible (as in, nanoscale-small) layer of air on whatever it covers for, according to its manufacturer, two to eight months in direct sunlight and an outdoor setting. The barrier is highly abrasion-resistant, meaning it won't just scrub or scratch off, and it can repel anything from water to oil to mud.

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While the technology isn't new, it's been mostly advertised as a way to keep mud and oil off of industrial workers' affects, since Ultra-tech, the manufacturer, is mainly a chemical clean-up company. But after Hamburg showed its application not only as a means of keeping the urine from staining walls, but in fact creating a rubber effect and bouncing urine back onto urinators, San Francisco thinks it may have its solution.

"The team that did the testing, they were excited because the liquid bounces back more than we thought it would," Nuru told SFGate. "Anything we can do to deter people is a good thing."

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This isn't a solution to the bigger issue, however. Why aren't there any bathrooms? San Francisco's Pit Stop program provides portable public toilets during certain hours, but all of them close by 9 p.m. Obviously that's early for the drinking crowd. But what about San Francisco's burgeoning homeless community?

Other cities, like Portland, Oregon, have public facilities. The Australian government even published a public toilet map online. So why does a city like San Francisco choose to try to embarrass people instead? Humiliation might not be enough of a deterrent: It could just cause illegal urinators to pee at an angle, in between cars or straight on the ground.