Clogs in Cooper Hall

Category:  News
Wednesday, November 15th, 2017 at 5:34 PM

A cautionary poster hangs on the outside, and again (sometimes multiple times) on the inside of each lab classroom on the first, second and third floors of Cooper Hall.

“No food or drink,” it reads. Professors recite an oft-repeated mantra before each class. “Wash your hands well after lab.” 

An integral part of that routine is drying the hands well to get rid of any lingering germs or stop the development of new, unpleasant bacteria. 

However, early this semester, in a decision that is drawing criticism from the students and faculty of Cooper Hall, facilities decided to remove first, all paper towels from Cooper Hall, and then the paper towel dispensers themselves. As of this writing, paper towels have only been removed from bathrooms. Labs in Cooper still have access to them.  

“Paper towels were removed from Cooper Hall restrooms because of the issues we were having of the towels being put in the toilets and causing plumbing problems,” said Judith Miller, manager of office and general services, in an email interview. 

According to Miller, trunk lines, or pipes that feed into the main interceptor line carrying sewage away from Cooper had been plugged multiple times at great expense with many paper towels, feminine products, and baby wipes. 

“It is not a common occurrence for trunk lines to clog around campus,” Miller said. According to facilities, trunk lines in Hamilton and Hendricks have begun clogging as well. However, Cooper is the only building paper towels have been removed from. 

Miller said: “There are no plans to return paper towels to Cooper Hall. Toilet paper is the only thing that should be flushed down the toilets. Signs were posted, we limited paper towels, etc., but it continued to happen.” 

“Soon we will begin replacing the paper towels with hand dryers to reduce paper towel waste and to reduce plumbing issues. It will be a process over time, but we will start with the buildings that are having the most problems.” 

The hand dryers, however, pose potential problems in a building where harmful chemicals, bacteria, and preserved specimens are dealt with on a daily basis. 

Dr. Dale Hunter, a botany professor, quoted a study published in the Mayo Clinic: “There is a reason why hospitals don’t have hand dryers in them,” she said. “This study, from a reputable source, shows that hand dryers actually spread bacteria.” 

The article, published in the Mayo Clinic’s Proceedings journal, cited 12 different studies and reviewed their findings. The average time men spend drying their hands at a hand dryer is 17 seconds versus 3.5 seconds with a paper towel, according to one study; women spend 13 seconds at the hand dryer and 5.2 seconds with a paper towel, according to the same study. 

Hot dryers were only able to achieve less than 70 percent of hand dryness, while paper towels were able to achieve more than 85 percent dryness. Could these be big differences considering the fact that bacteria breed and spread more easily on damp surfaces? 

The other studies quoted in the paper also stated that the hot air dryers, the model currently installed in Cooper, are the least effective method of ridding wet hands of bacteria. One study did find though that jet air dryers, a newer, more expensive model, found in the new bathrooms on the second floor of the library, were almost as effective as paper towels.

Student concerns about the removal of paper towels were more immediate.

“They (the administration) aren’t treating us like adults,” Maggie Whittington, a nuclear medicine major, said. “I’ve been just drying my hands on my clothes since they got rid of the paper towels.” 

Ari Toth, a biology major, said, “The hand dryers take forever to dry your hands, so I just dry my hands on my jeans or coat.” 

Shayma Musa can be reached at

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