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Where backflow occurs and cross-connections are present you have all of the necessary elements for contamination of the plumbing system and subsequently contamination of the public water system:
Backflow Occurrence = Link + Force
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A cross-connection is a connection of a potable water system to a non-potable system or a system of questionable water quality.
Backflow, within the context of the drinking water industry, means the reversal of water flow from its normal or intended direction of flow. Whenever a water utility connects a customer to its water distribution system, the intention is for the water to flow from the distribution system to the customer. However, it is possible, and quite common, for the flow to be reversed and the flow from the customer’s plumbing system can back up into the public water distribution system. If cross-connections exist within the user’s plumbing system when backflow occurs, then it is possible to contaminate the public water system.
Backflow may occur simply because the public water system lost pressure. Backflow, reversal of flow from its normal direction, is usually caused by a back pressure or backsiphonage. It is a condition that manifests itself when the water pressure within an establishment’s plumbing system exceeds that of the water distribution system supplying it. This back pressure might be caused by a difference in elevation, a pump, a steam boiler or other means.
Back pressure or Backsiphonage may occur when the water pressure within the distribution system falls below that of the plumbing system it is supplying. This may happen due to a fire department pumper truck as it needs to pump water out of the distribution system faster than the water treatment plant equipment can replace it. Also, the water rushing downhill due to a broken water main might create a partial vacuum on some plumbing systems connected in the vicinity of the break and cause a backsiphonage or, perhaps, simply flushing the water pipes to clean them may cause this phenomenon.
Yes, in the old days many disease epidemics were caused by cross-connections between potable water systems and raw river water or lake water piping systems. Epidemics of typhoid and cholera were often caused by backflow occurrences from these sources. People died or became very ill as a result of these outbreaks. A few of the contaminants caused by cross-connections are:
Untreated river, sea or lake water, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, propane gas, worm treatment for poultry, boiler water with chemicals, anti-freeze, blood and body fluids from funeral homes, chemicals, water from car washes, dyes, sewage, Freon, worms, heavy metals such as arsenic, petrochemicals, water from flush toilets, bacteria cultures from laboratories and others.
This is only a partial list of documented cases of potable water contamination by virtue of cross-connections and backflow occurrences. They still happen, somewhere, every day.
Modern technology has provided us with new tools to prevent backflow from non-potable sources into our public water systems. They are called backflow prevention assemblies; reduced pressure (RP) or double check valve (DC)-type. Unlike the older accepted, non-testable hardware for preventing backflow such as swing check valves, dual check valves and atmospheric vacuum breakers (which still have their applications), the RP and DC-type backflow prevention assemblies are testable to assure they are in proper working order. Placed at the site of the cross-connection they can protect the plumbing system from contamination. Placed just downstream of a water meter to an establishment, they can protect the public water system from any contamination that may occur within the entire establishment’s plumbing system.
The City of Royal Oak is required under Public Act 399, Part 14, to maintain a cross connection control program to identify and eliminate any possible connections that could contaminate the public water system.
To fully comply with this state mandate, the city has contracted with HydroCorp of Troy, MI to assist with facilitating a Cross Connection Control Program.
Information on this program can be found at www.romi.gov/cccp.