Plumbers object to «waterless urinalsĄ installed at some Oregon State parks

By DON McINTOSH, Associate Editor

A pilot project by the Oregon Department of Parks and Recreation using “waterless urinals” has leaders of the Plumbers Union agitated.

“I am not a happy camper,” said Ron Murray, lobbyist for the 4,300-member Local 290 of the United Association of Plumbers and Steamfitters.

After having heard requests to approve non-flush urinals since 1994, in October 2001 the Oregon State Plumbing Board approved installation of 22 urinals as a pilot project in state parks.

The urinals are touted as an environmentally-friendly plumbing fixture because of the water they save compared to conventional flush urinals. They look like conventional urinals except that there is no handle for flushing and no connection to a water source.

Several models exist. Michigan-based Falcon Waterfree and California-based Waterless Co. manufacture plastic or fiberglass urinals in which urine passes through a replaceable trap cartridge filled with a lighter-than-urine liquid disinfectant which acts as a sealant. The cartridge collects sediments present in urine, and is replaced two to four times a year, according to the manufacturers.

An alternate model manufactured by a German company, Duravit, uses a ceramic fixture and adds a heavier-than-urine chemical to flush urine down the drain.

Murray says the union supports the idea of waterless urinals, but it has numerous objections to the units installed by the Parks Department. He says the units are expensive compared to the cost of the water being saved — replacement cartridges are $35 each. He points out that the liquid in the trap used as a disinfectant contains chloroxylenol, classified by the Environmental Protection Agency as an anti-microbial pesticide that is toxic to fish. He says without water to flush urine, noxious odors are a problem, and that the urinals may pose a sanitary hazard. And he says that salts present in human urine may solidify in the pipes leading out of the urinals, causing clogging and corrosion and necessitating expensive repairs.

He also said waterless urinals would mean less work for Local 290 members, many of whom are out work right now.

Dan Gleiberman, spokesperson for Falcon Waterfree, contests every one of those criticisms. He said two studies commissioned by the state of Oregon found odor not to be a problem with the units.

“Those urinals came out smelling like a rose,” Gleiberman said. Murray said his nose knows otherwise. “This whole thing stinks,” he said.

At its Dec. 19 meeting, the Plumbing Board voted to continue to allow the existing units, but pulled the plug on further installations, citing concern that they may be unsanitary. Gleiberman is disappointed in the decision, while Murray views it as a victory. The Parks Department is expected to report back to the Plumbing Board about the pilot project by December 2004. Murray says he expects supporters of waterless urinals will come back in the next legislative session in 2005 with attempts to change the law to allow installation statewide.

Gleiberman said waterless urinals are approved for installation in Michigan, Massachusetts, North Carolina and Arizona. Last year the California Plumbing Board voted not to approve waterless urinals for general installation.

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