Backflow Assembly Applications: A second language worth speaking
It wasn't long ago when cross-connection problems were confined mostly to commercial and industrial applications. Today, however, the do-it-yourself homeowner has put the public's health at risk.
I've seen countless numbers of unapproved and unsafe faucets and fixtures in various home centers, just waiting to be installed by the untrained homeowner who doesn't even have the proper inspections or permits.
Every time a service technician finishes up a job or project, he should volunteer to do a free safety walk through the house. While he's looking at all the fixtures and faucets, he should be explaining things such as the hazards of cross connections in an unapproved low inlet ballcock or a direct connected sprinkler system. Low inlet decorator faucets or unapproved pull-out kitchen spray spouts are also classic violations that technicians can easily correct.
From this simple walk-through, the technician not only has made an extra sale, but he has protected the consumer from possible water contamination. A simple checklist and a few days of classroom training will give the average service technician enough knowledge to understand the "second language" of residential cross-connection problems.
Consumer IgnoranceNo matter how complete the inspection, there are always incidents that occur as a result of consumer ignorance.
Recently in Southern California, a homeowner decided he would save money by using the city-owned hillside irrigation system behind his house to water his own property. He made a late night covert connection between the irrigation pipes in his yard and the sprinkler pipes on the other side of the fence. What the consumer failed to realize was that the city had a reclaimed water irrigation system that was operating at a pressure of over 150 pounds. His residential system was barely sixty pounds.
The next day provided quite a surprise for his neighbors. A number of people complained to the water district of reclaimed water flowing from kitchen faucets and showers. A quick response from the water district soon resolved the problem, and within a few days the pipes were chlorinated and purged of any reclaimed water residue. The accused resident blamed a "handyman" for the incident, and as of today no charges have been filed.
Confined SpaceEntry One safety area that plumbing contractors have been forced to upgrade is the confined space entry requirements. Tripods, safety harnesses, and extra personnel are common. The same holds true for persons involved with backflow testing and service. Confined space vaults and pits are causing numerous problems for personnel. In one case, two city service workers drowned when an eight-inch water line ruptured in a large underground meter vault. The water filled up the space so quickly that the workers became entangled in each other's safety ropes and couldn't escape.
Many water districts and cites are raising the larger water meters and backflow assemblies out of the vaults to an above-ground location. This makes the inspection and repair of these large backflow assemblies and meters a much safer job.
Soda Fountain DispensersA new issue regarding backflow assembly applications is the use of reduced pressure assemblies with soda fountain dispenser carbonators. The potential hazard of copper sulfate contamination from back pressured Co2 into a copper line is all too real. The backflow assembly must be made of material that does not react to the gas. This requires a stainless steel assembly. The cost, of course, is high and in some cases the units aren't even available. But this issue of copper sulfate poisoning from carbonators can be a serious health hazard.
Guidelines for Test EquipmentA long-awaited issue in the backflow industry is an approved standard for backflow assembly test equipment. There are all different types of test gauges and equipment on the market, but there's no industry consensus on calibration requirements or equipment performance specifications.
Last year, the University of Southern California Foundation for Cross Connection Control developed a set of approvals for backflow assembly test equipment to be included in the soon-to-be released 10th edition of the "Manual of Cross Connection Control." The working committees at the American Society of Sanitary Engineering have also developed a backflow assembly test gauge standard that will be published later this year.
These two documents will set manufacturers' specifications and operating criteria for the next generation of backflow assembly test equipment. The end result will be a better product and a more reliable test gauge. It will also remove a number of questionable test gauges and attachments currently on the market. Administrative authorities will then have an operational standard that will ensure that persons requesting field test certifications do, in fact, have approved backflow test equipment.
Assemblies for Fire SystemsAn issue that has been at the forefront of the backflow prevention industry is the requirement for backflow prevention assemblies on fire systems.
The fire protection industry has claimed that the added costs of installation, as well as the head loss through the backflow assembly, creates a major problem for the sprinkler contractor. They further claim that the water in the sprinkler system is completely safe to drink.
Water agencies are mandated to provided safe and clean water to the consumer. In many states, the water agency can be held liable if a consumer gets sick from a glass of polluted water from the faucet. As a result, many water agencies are enforcing the fire main backflow assembly regulations. This includes new installations, as well as retrofits of existing systems.
This is a hot topic in many of the western states. Anyone who has removed or changed pipes in a fire sprinkler system can testify to the polluted condition of that black, noxious smelling water. One whiff is worth a thousand words. The solutions to all of the above-mentioned problems is better training of our own technicians and an expanded consumer awareness program.