The new Sani Seats being used by controversial city contractor United Maintenance Inc. are making headlines for their alleged lack of cleanliness.
After receiving a tip from a reader about the inefficiency of the SaniSeats, Chicago Sun-Times reporter Dan Mihalopoulous wrote about a reporter's experience after they trekked down to O'Hare to do their own check on the cleanliness of the toilet system, which is meant to keep toilets clean by using a rotating wrapper on the seats for each new user.
The reporter poured orange juice on the seat and in the toilet to see how well the wrapper worked. According to the reporter, remnants of the juice were still there after the seat cover swirled around to produce a new plastic cover. United Maintenance is transitioning over to a new toilet sanitation operator, saying that it could not reach an agreement with the one that has been servicing the airport for several years. The former company's toilet seat cover system does not appear to have the same problem, according to the Sun-Times.
But the company that United Maintenance is now working with, New Jersey-based North American Hygiene, Inc. tells ABC News that the orange juice experiment draws an inaccurate picture of their product.
“I can tell you that the way the reporter portrayed the use of the seat – by pouring orange juice on the rim of the bowl – is not the customary use of the toilet bowl,” Jerold Wagenheim, the vice president of marketing for the company, explained to ABC News. “You can take any product today and play it around with it enough to make it not work the way it should be working.”
He also claims that the seats are not new to O'Hare, according to his interview with ABC News.
“In the past 10 years, the SaniSeat has had 400 million uses without any complaints like this – around 41 million uses a year,” he added. “We aren’t the new people on the block there. His demonstration was so slanted to make it look like there was a problem. It’s just unbelievable.”
In what could be seen as a defense against the orange juice experiment's findings, city officials told both ABC News and the Sun-Times that there have been water pressure problems in some of the bathrooms at the airport, adding that there have been no complaints about the new systems being used.
This latest controversy is just another chapter in the dramatic saga that has become of the more than $99 million contract the city made with United Maintenance Inc. The company has come under fire for laying off long time O'Hare janitors only to hire new ones at a much lower pay rate, alleged mob ties, and for failing to report to the city that there is new ownership during the bidding process, which is required by Chicago law.