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Volume 89 Issue 19 | p. 56 | Newscripts
Issue Date: May 9, 2011

Fresher Urinals, Cancer-sniffing Dog

Department: Newscripts
Keywords: waterless urinals, sanitation, cancer-sniffing dog, volatile organic compounds
Waterless urinal:
Environmentally friendly and odor-free.
Credit: Falcon Waterfree Technologies
8919ns_Urinalscxd
 
Waterless urinal:
Environmentally friendly and odor-free.
Credit: Falcon Waterfree Technologies
Marine:
Canine cancer detector.
Credit: Courtesy of Hideto Sonoda
8919ns_dogcxd
 
Marine:
Canine cancer detector.
Credit: Courtesy of Hideto Sonoda

It’s hard to walk into a public restroom today without being greeted by a wide variety of automatic, “no touch” devices—for instance, motion-activated faucets and electric hand dryers—that are meant to inhibit the spread of germs. WATERLESS URINALS are the latest addition to this family of environmentally friendly gizmos, and they are quickly becoming a fixture among bathroom fixtures.

By all appearances, waterless urinals, such as those manufactured by Falcon Waterfree Technologies, resemble traditional urinals, except that they lack a lever for flushing. Instead, Falcon Chief Executive Officer James Krug explains, the devices rely on gravity and their architecture to channel urine into a cartridge located at their base. Once inside the cartridge, urine passes through a liquid sealant composed in part of a long-chain fatty acid and antibacterial terpenoids. The sealant’s specific gravity of 0.97 ensures that it floats to the top of the cartridge and locks in odor, while urine, which has a slightly higher specific gravity, moves downward and makes its way to the drain.

According to Krug, waterless urinals have many advantages over traditional ones, especially when it comes to sanitation. “There is a misconception that water is actually cleaning the environment” of urinals, Krug tells Newscripts. In reality, he says, water from flushing promotes the growth of bacteria as well as the creation of unpleasant odors. “The smell that we associate with urine is ammonia gas, and you get ammonia gas when you mix water with urine,” he explains.

Furthermore, waterless urinals help owners avoid the environmental and labor costs associated with traditional urinals, which typically produce 40,000 gal of contaminated water each year, Krug says. Waterless urinals require only routine cleaning and replacement of their cartridges—units made of recyclable plastic and the biodegradable liquid sealant—three to four times per year. Krug estimates that features such as these provide waterless urinal owners with annual savings of $200 to $500 per urinal.

For all these reasons, Krug is optimistic about the prospects of Falcon’s product. “We’re very bullish on the future,” he says. “It’s a product whose adoption is rapidly increasing, and over time I think we will see significant diminishing of flush valves in the market.”

Despite the apparent contradiction in terms, waterless urinals could very well be the wave of the future.

Although dogs frequently examine outdoor fixtures such as fire hydrants and trees (nature’s waterless urinals) the canines don’t often communicate their chemical findings to humans. Not so, however, for Marine, a black Labrador retriever that can sniff out COLORECTAL CANCER in feces.

Marine, a student of the St. Sugar Cancer Sniffing Dog Training Center, in Chiba, Japan, has been taught to use her sense of smell to identify stool samples, as well as breath samples, that belong to patients with colorectal cancer (Gut, DOI: 10.1136/gut.2010.218305). From late 2008 to mid-2009, Marine participated in a series of experiments in which she was presented with a stool or breath sample from a colorectal cancer patient. She was then asked to examine a lineup of five other samples—four belonging to healthy individuals and one belonging to an individual with colorectal cancer—before ultimately sitting in front of the sample she believed best matched the scent of the original.

All told, Marine was incredibly accurate, correctly identifying 91% of breath samples and 97% of stool samples. The researchers conducting the experiment believe the black Lab’s success is indicative of the existence of volatile organic compounds that are specifically associated with colorectal cancer. “We intend to evaluate these VOCs by chemical analysis,” they write. “Identification of cancer-specific VOCs will lead to solving the biological character of cancer.”

 
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