Building Science Projects

Portable Arctic Sanitation System

This project was developed in response to major sanitation needs in rural Alaska, where more than 3,000 households lack running water and flushing toilets to meet basic hygiene standards. In over 33 communities, households still use a honey bucket in lieu of a toilet and haul water from an untreated source, often the nearest river.  For some of these communities, the possibility of eliminating the honey bucket and the health hazards that go with it seem to be getting farther out of reach as climate change threatens opportunities for traditional piped water and sewer service. Having in-home water and sanitation makes hand washing and healthy hygiene practices easier, which have been shown to reduce illness. Infants in villages with limited water service have five times more hospitalizations for respiratory infection and 11 times more hospitalizations for pneumonia than the overall U.S. population.

The Portable Alternative Sanitation System addresses these challenges by providing a simple, affordable system that delivers clean water to a tap and safely handles waste. Created by the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, CCHRC helped in the design and fabrication of the units. Prototypes were installed in ten homes in the northwest Arctic village of Kivalina, which has no running water or sewer and may have to be relocated in the near future due to coastal erosion. Because of this uncertainty, building piped infrastructure was not an option

How the Portable Alternative Sanitation System works

PASS addresses the public health issue by providing basic water and sanitation needs in the home. Treated water in a storage tank and a bathroom sink replaces the handwashing basin to make handwashing easier and more frequent. The PASS waterless toilet separates urine from solids to reduce odor and toxicity. In addition, PASS is constantly ventilated to the outdoors, which further controls odors and allows solid waste to dry. Dried feces can be disposed of in the landfill or burned, and the small amounts of urine can be disposed of into the ground. Since PASS is portable, if homes need to relocate away from an eroding riverbank or coastline, PASS units can move with homes.

This system has been installed in five communities around Alaska, including Kivalina, Oscarville, Chalkyitsik, Allakaket and Alatna. All systems, including the first installed in Kivalina, have received the upgraded toilets. It has the potential to finally eliminate the honey bucket in Alaska while serving the most needy communities who are most threatened by a changing Arctic.


TitleTypeResource Link
Portable Arctic Sanitation System Prototype Project in Kivalina – Final ReportReports

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