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Malfunctioning ‘hygienic’ toilets at O’Hare are fixed: city

Updated: March 8, 2013 7:40AM

A dozen hygienic toilet seats at O’Hare Airport were “installed incorrectly,” but a controversial janitorial contractor has fixed the problem, a top mayoral aide said Wednesday.

Aviation Commissioner Rosemarie Andolino acknowledged United Maintenance Co.’s mistake one week after the Chicago Sun-Times lifted the veil — or is it the toilet seat? — on the latest in a series of controversies surrounding the $99 million contractor.

“Unfortunately, they started installing the seats. The installation was incorrect. . . . I don’t know all of the details or how they installed it. But it was installed incorrectly. They’ve come back, realized what the problem was, corrected it and now will be proceeding with the installation throughout” the airport, Andolino said.

“I believe it was 12 seats out of over 600 seats. . . . They’ve remedied that. The product works perfectly fine now. There is no issue. In fact, people love that amenity because it’s a very sterile, sanitized environment. . . . A lot of airports and facilities have those sheets. Those sheets usually end up all over the floor.”

The Sun-Times reported last week that the motorized “hygienic seats” that United is installing at O’Hare are not living up to their sanitized billing.

As the plastic wrapping rotates over seats, it drags up liquid from the rim of toilet bowls. That leaves drops of that liquid atop seats, on the clear plastic film that’s supposed to be clean.

The Sun-Times even shot a video to demonstrate the problem. It showed how orange juice splashed into a toilet bowl ended up on what’s supposed to be a clean seat after the motorized plastic wrapping rotated around the toilet.

After unrelated testimony Wednesday before the City Council’s Aviation Committee, Andolino was asked how the orange juice managed to end up on what was supposed to be a squeaky-clean toilet seat covered in plastic.

“It was a non-secured area. . . . We have restrooms throughout the airport — both land-side and air-side. This was kind of down between the CTA tunnel and the airport,” she said.

“I have team members [who] work in terms of facilities, and they are ensuring that it was remedied and that they continue to be installed properly.”

Andolino’s claim marks an about-face for City Hall. After the initial Sun-Times story, Aviation Department spokesperson Karen Pride insisted that the only problem was reporters pouring orange juice on toilet seats.

Tom Balanoff, president of Service Employees International Union Local 1, has demanded that the city’s Department of Public Health investigate the new toilet seats. SEIU represented custodians who worked 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.

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