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Here’s Why the Building Museum’s “Beach” Isn’t a Disgusting Germ Pit

Photograph by Lauren Joseph.

Since Washingtonian first visited the National Building Museum’s “Beach” exhibit, one of the most frequent concerns of readers contemplating a visit is how the museum prevents the exhibit—which includes an “ocean” of 1 million plastic balls—from turning into a cesspool worthy of Chuck E. Cheese’s.

“Sounds fun! Also sounds likes kids will get sick right after visiting too unfortunately,” one Facebook user wrote.

“Eventually the balls in the pitt are going to go everywhere and get all yucky,” reads one of the comments on the original “Beach” article. “That is why my family and I are going the day it opens.”

But according to Snarkitecture, the New York design firm behind the ridiculous exhibit, “The Beach” is much more sanitary than the preferred birthday-party venue of suburban seven-year-olds. The balls are made from an antimicrobial polyethylene sold under the brand name GermBlock. The manufacturer, North Carolina-based 21st Century Products, claims the material repels more than 50 common organisms, including salmonella and E. coli.

“It kills germs,” says Ben Porto, a senior associate at Snarkitecture. “It’s like using Purel.”

While Porto repeats 21st Century Products’s claim that the balls’ antimicrobial quality won’t wear off over the life of the exhibit—it’s open through Labor Day—the Building Museum does do “spot cleaning” of the balls when necessary. The exhibit is also sprayed down with a cleaning agent every morning before it opens.

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.