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O’Hare contractor inspects its ‘hygienic’ toilet seats — city sees no problems

A toilet secover malfunctiO'Hare International Airport. | Sun-Times Media

A toilet seat cover malfunction at O'Hare International Airport. | Sun-Times Media

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Updated: March 2, 2013 7:33AM

Employees of a controversial city janitorial contractor inspected an O’Hare Airport bathroom Tuesday after the Chicago Sun-Times reported how newly installed “hygienic” toilet seats were dragging liquid from toilet bowl rims and leaving it on plastic seat covers.

But officials of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration said they saw no problem with 12 seats installed so far by United Maintenance Co. Inc. under its new five-year, $99.4 million contract with the city.

Among the men spotted Tuesday afternoon outside the bathroom with the new toilet seats was Michael Tinerella, who left City Hall a few years ago after rising to be the No. 2 official in former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s Zoning Department. He said he now worked for United and referred questions to the company.

“To our knowledge, there have been no complaints and testing continues,” United compliance director Anthony D’Angelo said. “Other than that, we have no further comment at this time.”

The new toilets, which are in rest rooms near the CTA’s subway station, remained open Tuesday. The Sun-Times shot a video Monday demonstrating how orange juice splashed on a toilet bowl ended up on what’s supposed to be a clean seat after the motorized plastic wrapping rotated around the toilet.

“Since we are aware of no complaints and know of no other major issues other than reporters pouring orange juice on the rims of airport toilets in the CTA subway, no specific action is needed,” Aviation Department spokeswoman Karen Pride said.

United plans to replace some 600 toilets throughout the airport this year, D’Angelo said. The “Sani Seats” seats being installed were once in use at O’Hare, but United’s predecessor on the contract replaced them a year ago, said Jerold Wagenheim, vice president of marketing for New Jersey-based North American Hygiene, which provides Sani Seats for United.

Wagenheim said there could be a problem with the installation of the seats but added, “In the entire time we’ve been involved with the product, we’ve never had a complaint.”

Wagenheim said North American Hygiene has four full-time employees and was founded about 15 years ago, but has yet to turn a profit “because we are putting all our money into research and development.”

The kind of seats in use at O’Hare are at no other major airport and were recently removed from airports in Louisville, Newark and New York due to budgetary cutbacks, he said.

The leader of the Service Employees International Union, Tom Balanoff, called on the city health department to investigate the new toilet seats. The union had represented workers under the previous O’Hare janitorial contractor and has vociferously opposed the city’s deal with United, whose janitors at the airport are non-union.

“The city should be out there informing the public that these toilets are not sanitary,” Balanoff said.

Contributing: Mitch Dudek

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