New ICC Pulse Podcast focuses on plumbing
For this month’s episode of the ICC Pulse Podcast, backflow prevention specialist Bruce Rathburn joins the International Code Council’s Lee Clifton to discuss plumbing cross-connection control programs. Rathburn highlights the importance of backflow prevention in safeguarding our water and its relation to our building safety codes.
Lee Clifton: Bruce, can you give us a brief description of backflow and the main concerns?
Bruce Rathburn: Water contamination is the main concern of the water purveyor or plumbing official. If something gets into your drinking water, it may chemically and/or physically change it and make someone sick, or even cause death. Unfortunately, due to undetected cross-connections, every few minutes incidents occur around the world.
Clifton: What is a cross-connection?
Rathburn: First, we will need to understand that backflow occurs in two forms: backflow pressure and backsiphonage. For people who are unfamiliar with the trade, a simple analogy to help comprehension is to think about drinking through a straw. Creating suction on the straw and drawing the water into your mouth is backsiphonage. Blowing into a straw is backflow pressure. When backflow pressure occurs in the straw, it causes bubbles to appear on the other end.
Applying the same thought process of these analogies involves a loss or gain of water pressure in the distribution system. A person connecting a plumbing line to a piece of water-using equipment could result in one of the following:
- Create the high-pressure scenario that causes water to be pressured back into the distribution system (Backflow Pressure).
- Lose water pressure, which causes backsiphonage in the drinking water system.
Either scenario would cause water to follow in the least path of resistance back into our drinking water. Both cases presents the potential for contamination or pollution of the drinking water system.
Clifton: Now, let’s connect this conversation to the codes. Why does the International Plumbing Code (IPC) require annual inspections be made of all backflow provincial assemblies and air gaps?
Rathburn: The code’s mission is to educate people in the water industry on how to keep our drinking water safe. Certified or licensed individuals test backflow preventers and ensure devices, such as air gaps, are functioning properly to not allow backflow. There have been many cases where backflow preventers were removed or the air gaps have were directly connected to a known hazard. The annual inspections are an opportunity to ensure no other cross-connections were created since the last inspection and allow us to accomplish the code’s mission of safeguarding our water.
Clifton: Bruce, what is a cross-connection control program?
Rathburn: A cross-connection control program is run by the authoritative jurisdiction in a city or township that has ownership over the water. Typically, the water purveyor works with the local plumbing officials and many others to make this all work. These individuals place requirements on what type of backflow prevention methods are used at each site, depending on the degree of hazard that they pose to the main drinking water system. Then, notices are sent to these individual sites requiring the testing and/or inspection of all backflow prevention assemblies or devices at this site to be done on an annual basis.
Clifton: Bruce, why do we need cross-connection control programs?
Rathburn: It is one of many defenses to protect our most precious resource, which is water. Without it, people don’t survive. If we contaminate, people have no water to drink and don’t survive. It is the ultimate win or lose scenario.
When you consider that less than 3 percent of Earth’s total water is drinkable and only 1 percent is easily accessible, you can see why it’s so important to protect it. We have cities and townships across the world that work day and night to provide it to every household. Only when the cross-connection control programs are intertwined with the plumbing codes, do we have a chance at keeping this water safe.
Clifton: Thank you, Bruce. A tradition of this podcast is to ask all guests about their favorite building. If you could choose your favorite building maybe due to style of architecture type of materials used, fun story or connection you have to the building. What would it be, and why?
Rathburn: I have two: The Gateway Arch in St. Louis and the Tower of the Americas in San Antonio. Both are unique in their own right. However, they both carry a similar message, which is represented as a bridge that allows people to come together across the world to share traditions and cultures. But for the record, they also have a backflow preventer at the bottom of each structure that is tested each year to keep our drinking water safe.
Clifton: Very good. Thank you, Bruce. My favorite is the White House. There are 132 rooms, 32 bathrooms and 6 levels to accommodate all the people who live in, work in, and visit the White House. There are also 412 doors, 147 windows, 28 fireplaces, 7 staircases, and 3 elevators.
The ICC Pulse Podcast is a monthly podcast that offers listeners the inside scoop on the International Code Council and the building safety industry. Episodes of the ICC Pulse Podcast will feature interviews with leading industry experts discussing a wide range of topics, including current events and new technologies. Click here to listen to the episode and be sure to subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Google Play and Spotify. Follow the International Code Council on Facebook and Twitter, and spread the word about our podcast using the hashtag #ICCpulsepod.
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