On July 1, 2008, the New York Department of Buildings (DOB) put a new sanitary code into effect. It is the first major revision of the code since 1968 and puts a new focus on backflow prevention – the backflow of contaminated water into a building’s water supply. The new law stipulates that every installed backflow preventer must be tested on site by a licensed backflow preventer tester prior to use. It must then be tested annually, and each test must be submitted to the Department of Buildings. This is an important step forward in protecting New York’s drinking water from contamination by end users.
What are returns?
Backflow preventer, also called RPZ, protect the city’s water supply from external pollution. The devices only allow water to flow in one direction – be it a kettle, a doctor’s office, a dentist’s chair, or the building itself. RPZs are required wherever an end-user is at risk of polluting city water.
Backflow prevention devices are needed in public water systems to prevent backflow or backflow of water and contaminants from entering the public water system. A qualified tester licensed by the New York State Department of Health tests containment containers, including double check valves and reduced pressure devices, to ensure that the devices are functioning properly.
In an unprotected system, water can and will flow both into a building and out of a device. The backflow is called back siphonage. If water service on the street or in a building is interrupted for any reason, a pressure drop occurs that can pull contaminated water backwards into the water system. This happened recently in southern Jamaica, Queens, at a car wash without an RPZ. A significant amount of cleaning fluid appears to have been sucked back from the car wash into the neighborhood drinking water. Local residents said their water tasted strange and sweet. Although the liquid was not immediately harmful to her, the event was cause for concern.
It’s not just cleaning fluid that can pollute New York’s water. Bacteria and pathogens of all kinds can be diverted back into the water system from cooling towers of the air conditioning system as well as from doctors and dentists’ offices. In fact, it is believed that backflow from a hotel air conditioner caused what is now Legionnaires’ disease. 17 people who attended a convention in Philadelphia in the late 1970s were killed.
Failure to introduce new regulations
Despite the fact that as of July 1, New Yorkers will be better protected from waterborne contaminants, there is a loophole in the new regulations: it only applies to newly installed equipment. The check valves most at risk in the 1970s and 1980s – those installed in the 1970s and 1980s – do not need to be tested or serviced yet. The latest major step New York City has taken in protecting its drinking water is not complete. For boards of directors and managers who would like more information on this complicated subject, please contact [email protected].
Paul Paddock is President of Backflow Prevention in New York, a company that designs, installs, tests, and repairs all makes and models of backflow preventer.