State lifts ban on waterless urinals

May 15, 2008
ST. PAUL, MINN. – Lawmakers here have lifted a statewide ban on waterless urinals initially supported by a trade group that wanted amendments to the state’s plumbing code addressing the water-saving devices.

ST. PAUL, MINN. – Lawmakers here have lifted a statewide ban on waterless urinals initially supported by a trade group that wanted amendments to the state’s plumbing code addressing the water-saving devices.

The state enacted the legislation banning the urinals in 2007. Carl Crimmins, president of the Minnesota Pipe Trades Association, said his organization originally endorsed the ban because the state’s plumbing code did not permit the installation and operation of waterless urinals at the time.

“The manufacturers were running around trying to sell these waterless urinals in the state against what the plumbing code stated,” he said. “Nobody was addressing the issue that, even though waterless urinals are a good thing, you’ve got to change the law in order to make them legal.”
Now that the legislature has reversed its decision, Crimmins said it will be up to the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry’s Plumbing Board to amend the code.

According to Crimmins, one of the problems that led to the prohibition in 2007 was that Minnesota’s commissioner of labor and industry had suspended the department’s plumbing council, alarming the trade group, which then lobbied for the ban.

“That seemed to get everybody’s attention,” Crimmins said. “That got the manufacturers, installers and salespeople all saying, ‘What the heck is going on?’ We told them, ‘You need to address the plumbing code. You just can’t ignore it. The code is there for a reason. You need to change the code to make waterless urinals legal in the State of Minnesota, otherwise every plumber and every owner that’s installing a waterless urinal is breaking the law.’”

Now, Crimmins said, manufacturers and others are pushing the state’s plumbing board, formed in January 2008, to “move expeditiously” to amend the plumbing code.

According to Crimmins, there are at least six areas within the current plumbing code that need amendments.

For instance, one of the rules currently requires every urinal in the state to have a water-flush device, he said. The code also states that no plumbing fixture can have an object in its trapway, which currently bars the installation of waterless urinals, he said.

Jory Isakson, president of the Minnesota Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association, said his organization agreed the plumbing board should handle the matter of addressing waterless urinals via the state’s plumbing code.

“We never took a position for or against (waterless urinals),” he said. “Our feeling was that this should go to the plumbing board for review to see if they should be allowed or not rather than just having a wholesale ban.
“Our position was to get the ban lifted and get (the issue) to the plumbing board for their review because (the board) is comprised of master plumbers.”

Dave Viola, director of special services for the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials, also argues that technical plumbing issues be left to plumbing professionals familiar with code-related matters.

“I’m of the opinion that the codes need to be the place where these issues are vetted out. The legislators should not be getting in the business of establishing code requirements,” he said. “IAPMO is in the business of developing model codes and being the forum for those technical issues to be vetted, not in a state capitol legislative session.”

Viola said the Uniform Plumbing Code Technical Committee currently is discussing the issue of whether or not waterless urinals are acceptable for the Uniform Plumbing Code.

“It looks like they may be something that’s allowed in the 2009 Uniform Plumbing Code with a couple of caveats,” he said. “One is that a water line be roughed in behind the wall so that if there’s ever an occasion where the waterless urinals need to be removed and a water-supplied urinal installed, the water was available for that to be accomplished.”
While Minnesota has lifted its waterless urinal ban, state lawmakers did, however, uphold a ruling that bars air admittance valves, which prevent the release of sewer gas without the need of a pipe venting system through a building’s roof.

And while the ruling prohibits air admittance valves, it does not prohibit the state’s plumbing board from further studying the devices and making recommendations, according to minutes of the state Senate’s Finance Committee.

During the finance committee’s meeting in mid-May, former Sen. Dave Johnson, representing the Minnesota Pipe Trades, said air admittance valves sometimes fail and allow sewer gas to escape, according to the minutes.

Viola said air admittance valves also are up for consideration in the Uniform Plumbing Code, but reiterated his point that decisions regarding technical plumbing matters should remain within the purview of plumbing professionals.

“Absolutely the worst thing that can happen is having legislatures across the country deciding what’s in and what’s out of a plumbing system,” he said. “That’s why we have model plumbing codes -- to create uniformity and to establish requirements based on input from all of the assorted experts in the field, not politicians and people who have a vested interest in the outcome of such a bill.”

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