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OSHA ruling kills UNR effort to recycle water

By Lenita Powers • lpowers@rgj.com • July 21, 2008
The University of Nevada, Reno's attempt to go green and save money by recycling more than a half-million gallons of water annually has been shot down by a disagreement with a state agency over a tiny pump.

University safety officials said the pump would have allowed the campus to use 600,000 gallons of water annually to water landscape instead of sending it down the drain. But UNR was ordered to remove the pump last week because Nevada Occupational Safety and Health Administration officials said it violated a code that prohibits any nonessential equipment in the room that houses the air conditioning system that cools the Joe Crowley Student Union building.
John Sagebiel, UNR manager of environmental affairs, said the disagreement is over the intent of a building code.
"The (OSHA) inspector is hinging everything on this one word in the code that says you are not supposed to have 'nonessential' equipment in chiller room," Sagebiel said. "The reason is there is a potential safety issue in chiller rooms."  The chiller room at the student union houses the huge industrial air conditioner, which contains refrigerant composed of stable chemical molecules that are potential asphyxiants, he said.
"So we have to have leak detectors in the room and the room has to be ventilated. It's all for safety, but this pump doesn't put anyone in the building at risk," Sagebiel said.  "Yes, the code says you can't have nonessential equipment in a chiller room, but the intent of the rule is to protect people. But this pump doesn't pose any danger, and it is essential for the overall efficiency of that room in that it reuses water that otherwise would be wasted," he said.
The OSHA inspector could not be reached for comment.
"This pump is a tiny little thing," Sagebiel said of the beer keg-sized apparatus. "It's a pipsqueak pump."