CASPER, Wyo. – The first thought that occurs to a driver cruising down Wyoming’s long, lonely highways is that a lot of folks out here must really like lemonade, given how many plastic jugs and bottles half-filled with lemonade-looking liquid litter the roadside.

This thought is followed almost instantaneously, however, by a second realization: If the drivers like lemonade so much, how come they are tossing away their bottles when they are still half-full?

And then a third, more disturbing, revelation dawns: That’s not lemonade in those bottles. It’s urine.

While most of us weren’t looking, a new epidemic appears to have broken out along the nation’s interstate system: a plague of “pee bottles,” also known as “trucker bombs,” uncounted thousands of nasty soft-drink bottles and milk jugs filled with liquid human waste tossed by drivers, usually long-haul truckers who can’t be bothered to stop at restrooms.

Wyoming is one of a handful of states that in recent years have sharply increased fines for drivers caught in the act of lobbing the potentially toxic bottles out the window. In Colorado, highway maintenance workers complained to state legislators that the bottles were exploding all over them when struck by lawn mowers. Officials in Arkansas and Florida have taken note of the problem, although they have proposed no solutions.

And in Washington state, officials put up posters at truck stops featuring a milk jug partially filled with yellow liquid that read, “Okay, one last time: This is not a urinal.”

“The more cross-country traffic you have, the more of this you see, and Wyoming is what we call a “bridge state’ between east and west,” said Bruce Burrows, spokesman for the state’s Department of Transportation. “It’s a chronic problem. In some of our districts, the highway workers will actually take along a flamethrower and hit that stuff with it rather than pick it up.”

The federal government collects streams of arcane data about the nation’s highways, such as “annual vehicle miles driven on urban minor arteries” (371,392,000 in 2005) and “miles of interstate lanes wider than 12 feet” (672). But there’s no category for “number of urine bottles collected,” so the precise extent of the crisis remains unknown.

The only known pee bottle statistic anywhere was reported by Adams County in Washington state, where, between March and November, 2002, one highway cleanup crew picked up 2,666 jugs of urine and 67 bags of human excrement, according to an Associated Press report.

Anecdotally, however, urine-filled bottles are a big problem.

“We had a highway worker picking this stuff up a few years ago and one of these bottles broke and he contracted some fairly serious disease,” said Bill Vasey, the Wyoming state senator who sponsored the law in 2004 raising the maximum penalty for littering bodily fluids to nine months in jail and a $1,000 fine. “It was one of those bills, when you first saw it, there was a lot of giggling. But then once their attention was called to it, legislators really started noticing these bottles as they drove around the state.”

So serious is the threat posed by exposure to urine-filled bottles that Wyoming transportation officials felt compelled to issue instructions to adopt-a-highway volunteers not to even approach them on their appointed litter-pickup rounds.

“We try to give the volunteers a heads-up about what’s out there,” said Burrows. “One of the things in recent years is stuff from meth (methamphetamine) labs – they strain ammonia and other materials through cat litter and dump it all in a plastic sack and drop it along the highway. We call those “death bags’ because they are actually quite toxic.”

Wyoming authorities do not track how many tickets have been issued for littering bodily fluids since the law took effect, but they are certain the number is not high, since a police officer would have to catch an offender in the act of tossing a bottle for a citation to stick.

Nevertheless, Vasey believes Wyoming’s $1,000 fine has a deterrent effect, particularly among truck drivers, who he asserted are the most common culprits.

Spokesmen for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, a truckers’ advocacy group, declined requests to be interviewed on the topic. But Internet discussion groups catering to truckers are alive with the most common explanation for the problem: Truck drivers are under enormous time pressures and often cannot afford to stop to relieve themselves.

But critics say such explanations beg the question of why truckers couldn’t simply stash their bottles in their cabs for disposal when they do make a stop for food or fuel.

Historians note, however, that ejecting bodily fluids along the highways is a very old problem in Wyoming that long predates the arrival of 18-wheelers. Pioneers traveling the Oregon Trail through the state were some of the earliest offenders.

“The most significant hazard on the Oregon Trail was not Indian attacks or weather – it was disease, primarily caused by poor sanitation,” Burrows said. “Just like today, the folks didn’t go far from the trail to relieve themselves. So this has been a bane in the state for a lot of years.”

(c) 2007, Chicago Tribune.

Visit the Chicago Tribune on the Internet at

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

AP-NY-01-28-07 0600EST