The morning after: Mall 4th cleanup underway

WASHINGTON — After a day of Independence Day traditions comes a July 5 staple — the big cleanup of the National Mall.

Crews began work shortly after the last firework fizzled, trying to return the Mall and the West Lawn of the Capitol to the conditions they were in before the parties that drew tens of thousands of people.

Overflowing garbage cans and recycling bins have been emptied and are ready for another day’s deposits.

One of the biggest challenges is removing the scores of portable toilets that had been brought in by several contractors.

“We have to pump ’em out, clean ’em up, get ’em on trucks, and get ’em outta here,” said Ben Lahay, technician with United Site Services, as he prepared to process a group of portable toilets on the grounds of the Washington Monument. The company had seven trucks involved in the cleanup.

Clean toilets on the Mall are usually sought after but after a day of use, “They don’t want ’em here anymore,” he joked.

Attached to his shining silver truck is a powerful vacuum hose, which deposits the waste in the truck’s storage tank.

“With 13-hundred gallons, times seven, that should be plenty [of capacity] to get 500 toilets out of here,” he said.

Having served in the Marines, Lahay said he’s used to the smelly duty.

“Oh, yeah, it doesn’t bother me,” he said. “I see other people walk by, and they hold their nose.”

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a general assignment reporter with WTOP since 1997. He says he looks forward to coming to work every day, even though that means waking up at 3:30 a.m.

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