Hygienic Toilet Seats at O'Hare Airport - Maybe Not So Hygienic

(North American Hygiene)

CHICAGO - A motorized system that wraps toilet seats in plastic is supposed to make going to the bathroom at Chicago's O'Hare Airport more hygienic, but a published report leaves that open to doubt.

Here's how the system works: When a person approaches the toilet, a sensor triggers a clean plastic wrapping to rotate onto the toilet seat, replacing the old one.

The new wrapping is supposed to make the process cleaner. But as it rotates onto the seat, the wrapping apparently can pull liquid from the rim of the toilet bowl to the sitting surface.

On a tip from a reader that the seats were unsanitary, Chicago Sun-Times reporter Dan Mihalopoulos went to the airport, poured orange juice onto and into the toilet, and then watched as some of that juice turned up on the sitting area of the wrapping after it rotated around the toilet seat, according a Sun-Times video and article.

The airport toilet system is run by United Maintenance Co. Inc., a contractor employed by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration on a five-year deal worth close to $100 million.

The "SaniSeats" shown in the Sun-Times demonstration are assembled by North American Hygiene Inc., a company based in New Jersey, which then sells them to United Maintenance.

"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 at North American Hygiene Inc., told 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."

According to Wagenheim, the seats have been used at O'Hare for the last 13 years.

"In the past 10 years, the SaniSeat has had 400 million uses without any complaints like this - around 41 million uses a year," Wagenheim said. "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."

Messages left by ABC News with United Maintenance went unreturned.

A spokesw0man for the mayor's office referred all questions to the Chicago Department of Aviation.

The problem may be caused by "a water pressure issue" that is being addressed, Chicago Aviation Department spokeswoman Karen Pride told ABC News Tuesday. Pride said that the airport has yet to receive any complaints about the purportedly hygienic seat covers.

O'Hare, the country's second busiest airport, serviced nearly 67 million passengers in 2011.