On a balmy May night at Yankee Stadium, nearly 50,000 fans rush from their seats almost immediately after Yankees outfielder Brett Gardner grounds to first for the final out in the game, a 5–3 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates. They stream out to the concrete concourse, down the ramps and into the industrial-size elevators that take them from the upper decks all the way down to the street level
In just a few minutes, they are all gone, but they leave plenty behind. Their cupholders are stuffed with high-priced “souvenir” cups half-filled with soda and beer, and on seats are soggy wrappers, cardboard boxes and tubs holding the greasy dregs of a ballpark dinner. All this trickles down onto the seatbacks and floors to join pooling piles of peanut shells, spilled drinks and hot dog detritus: All-American waste.
That mess is tough to clean, and, worse, it traps bacteria and other unhealthy organic matter, creating a veritable “mold bowl” that can last all season long.
One company may have a solution. Pureti, a “distributed” organization (it has a lab in Connecticut, a factory in Michigan, a president in Ohio and a vice president of sales in California), has designed, tested and is now marketing a suite of spray-on products made with titanium dioxide (TiO2, aka titania) it says can transform any surface into a self-cleaning dynamo that not only kills grime but lowers air pollution in the vicinity.
Pureti wants to start by making clients of some of the modern world’s most hallowed grounds: the stadiums and arenas that host the globe’s professional baseball, football (both kinds), hockey and basketball leagues. So far, Pureti has hooked one major U.S. sports venue: Sun Life Stadium, home of the Miami Dolphins of the National Football League. Sun Life (formerly and more famously known as Joe Robbie Stadium) is a 25-year-old coliseum that holds 75,000 fans per game—and the detritus they create.
“Between the heat, and the humidity, and the beer, the people maintaining the stadium had to power-wash after every football game,” says Finkel. According to John Kennedy, DTZ’s vice president of operations support, cleaning a football stadium costs between $60,000 and $90,000 per game, and it wastes a whole lot of water.
So Finkel took some Pureti products down to Florida last season, and gave DTZ, the stadium’s facilities management company, a test drive: They chose a small section of the stadium floor and covered half of it with Pureti and left half untreated, as a control.
They tested it through an entire football season. Within weeks, “it was clearly evident” which rows of seats were in the control group and which had been treated with Pureti, says Kennedy. “All it would take is one day of sunshine, and one aisle would snap back to being clear and clean, and the other would discolor, and you’d see evidence of mold accumulation. We’d have to pressure-wash the untreated row more aggressively and more often than the treated row.”
In March 2014, DTZ had Pureti coat the entire stadium with its spray, which Finkel says will last for at least five years.
Globally, other stadium managers are starting to hear about the company. Pureti was asked to bring its product to the Nou Camp, the home of Futbol Club Barcelona (aka Barca) and the largest stadium in Europe. They haven’t yet coated that centerpiece of Catalonian athletics, but Finkel expects it to happen sometime in the coming year. He says there are rumblings that they’ll be asked to work on the 2018 World Cup.
The truth, though, is that the whole notion of “self-cleaning” is really just a Trojan horse to get the pollution-lowering technology into and onto as many buildings as possible.