Toxic threat prompts move to ban a bathroom fixture
Legislation would prevent use of
wafers that control urinal odor in schools in New York.
By RICK KARLIN, Staff writer, Albany Times-Union, Albany, NY: First
published: Wednesday, August 25, 2004
They've been around for decades
and are as common as paper towel or soap dispensers, but now the
ubiquitous wafers used to control urinal odor are about to be
banished from New York's schools.
The wafers appear innocuous and have not until recently been at
the top of many hazardous material lists. But a key chemical in
many, paradichlorobenzene, can trigger asthma attacks and is a
Following the lead of several other government agencies,
including Erie County, the state Department of Correctional
Services, and the cities of New York and San Francisco, the state
Legislature this year voted to ban the cakes, also known as para
blocks, from public and private school bathrooms. The ban could take
effect as soon as November, depending on which version of the
legislation Gov. George Pataki signs. While a spokeswoman for Pataki
said he has not yet received the bill, one of the main sponsors,
Assemblyman Michael Gianaris, D-Queens, said the governor had said
he supported the move.
"We thought the place we could have the most impact was the
schools," said Gianaris, who didn't rule out future efforts to
broaden the ban.
The way in which this ban came about shows how toxic substances
can remain relatively obscure until some unexpected event focuses
attention on them.
Concern over para blocks came to the forefront in New York last
year when an unusually high number of cancer cases among
firefighters based in a Brooklyn firehouse was linked to the para
Environmentalists hailed the ban.
"I'm delighted to think that somebody is going to ban these
chemical toilet bowl cleaners," said Claire Barnett, executive
director of the Healthy Schools Network, an Albany-based group that
pushes to remove toxins and other pollutants from schools.
"This is a trend," added Cameron S. Lory, a research associate at
Inform, a New York City group that advises governments and
businesses on how to reduce pollution.
Lory noted that there are substitutes for the para blocks,
including wafers that use bacteria to contain odors. And newer
auto-flush urinals eliminate much of the need for such cakes, she
The substitutes, however, are costlier, even though they last
three times as long, added Lory.
Representatives from Willert Home Products Inc. of St. Louis, a
major para block manufacturer, didn't return calls for comment.
Environmentalists such as Barnett and Lory note that even benign
deodorizers pose their own dangers, in that they mask what could be
the need for better cleaning and disinfecting of restrooms. "They
actually affect your sense of smell," Lory said of deodorizers.
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Corporation, Albany, N.Y.
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