U.S. Water News Online
PHILADELPHIA -- This city's hoped-for bragging rights as
home of America's tallest environmentally friendly building could go
down the toilet.
In a city where organized labor is a force to be reckoned with,
the plumbers union has been raising a stink about a developer's plans
to install 116 waterless, no-flush urinals in what will be
Philadelphia's biggest skyscraper.
Developer Liberty Property Trust says the urinals would save 1.6
million gallons of water a year at the 57-story Comcast Center,
expected to open next year.
But the union put out the word it doesn't like the idea of
waterless urinals -- fewer pipes mean less work.
The city's licensing department, whose approval is needed for
waterless urinals, has not yet rendered a decision.
The mayor's office has stepped in to try to save the urinals,
which use a cartridge at the base to trap odors and sediment as waste
It told the plumbers that the city's building boom will provide
plenty of work for them and that even waterless urinal systems need
some plumbing connections, said Stephanie Naidoff, city commerce
Philadelphia's unions have periodically put the city in a
For years, convention groups were canceling bookings at the
Pennsylvania Convention Center because of difficulties working with
six unions. New rules were established in 2003 to allow convention
groups to deal instead with a middleman, a labor supplier. A few
months later, the electricians union temporarily shut off power and
picketed the center in a dispute with the supplier.
In 2004, the MTV reality show "The Real World" briefly pulled up
stakes after union workers, in a dispute over hiring practices,
picketed the house the cast was to live in. The show's producers and
labor leaders eventually negotiated a deal to bring the show back.
Edward Keenan, the business manager of Plumbers Union Local 690,
did not return calls for comment. Liberty Property Trust said only
that it is "currently engaged in an administrative process with the
city to obtain the necessary approvals."
Waterless urinals were introduced in the early 1990s. Thousands
are in use around the country, including such places as the San Diego
Zoo, Walt Disney World and the Rose Bowl.
Though no pipe carries water into the urinal, the amount of piping
eliminated is very minimal, said Jill Kowalski, executive director of
the Delaware Valley Green Building Council in Philadelphia.
The fight over the urinals gets even stranger given that the
Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, the city's
transit agency, installed a dozen of these a few years ago at its
headquarters. Spokesman Richard Maloney said the city approved their
use and the urinals passed initial inspections. Two were later deemed
as not conforming to city code and were converted to traditional
But it was only recently that the city licensing agency questioned
the use of no-flush urinals, Maloney said, and threatened to take the
transportation authority to court. Robert D. Solvibile Sr.,
Philadelphia's licensing chief, has said he is afraid they could
create dangerous gases. ("I want to make sure they're safe," he told
the Inquirer when the issue surfaced.)
The apparent about-face testifies to the unions' clout.
"They can turn up votes and they have loyalty," said Charles
McCollester, a labor relations expert at Indiana University of
Naidoff said it would be nice for Philadelphia to have the
country's tallest green building. But she said the city's main goal
is to balance the needs of the developer, environmental groups and
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