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This year, for the first time — and for many years to come — the date Aug. 16 will hold new significance to those whose lives are improved through backflow prevention. You might be surprised to know that, essentially, billions of people worldwide have backflow technology to thank for their good health.
Aug. 16 has officially been registered as the new, nationwide day for backflow recognition (see https://bit.ly/3qUfms1) in remembrance of the 2,000 people who got sick, and the 98 who died, following a backflow incident that stemmed from the August 16, 1933 World’s Fair backflow incident in Chicago.
Spearheaded by North Andover, Mass. based Watts, the purpose of National Backflow Prevention Day is to acknowledge the importance of backflow prevention, to help educate the public about how this life-saving technology is used, and to recognize the water quality professionals responsible for installing and maintaining backflow preventers.
“As long as there have been plumbing systems, there have been backflow incidents,” says Danielle Swanson, backflow marketing manager for Watts. “The 1933 event was one of the first documented backflow incidents.”
In 1933, Chicago city planners had abandoned quality plumbing practices — just in time for the influx of World’s Fair travelers — in favor of allowing almost uncontrolled growth.
As a result, the city’s water mains and sewage system were grossly undersized, poorly designed, and rich with unhealthy impurities. Two of the key hotels used to house event visitors had cross-connections with rooftop water tower fluids that badly contaminated the domestic water supply, causing an influx of germs that became the link to many severe cases of amoebic dysentery.
As the problem spread, and given the 12- to 30-day incubation period, there were nearly 100 deaths and over 700 documented cases spread over 206 cities in the United States, and over 1,000 additional cases in the city of Chicago, all traced back to the water supply of the two hotels.
The 1933 outbreak resulted in the development of the Foundation for Cross Connection Control and Hydraulic Research, now a division of the University of Southern California.
Green Beret of the Plumbing Industry
“Backflow preventers and those who test, install and maintain them are the unsung heroes of water safety,” Swanson adds. “I consider them to be the ‘Green Beret of the Plumbing Industry’ — whose work has led them to one of the most challenging facets of the profession. I think immediately of Bernie Clark, owner of Backflow Prevention Device Tester and Clarke Sales based in Valencia, Calif., and Dave Yates of F. W. Behler, Inc. in York, Pa.
“Dave’s many years of backflow testing work put him in touch with us as we learned from him how he refined backflow service work. Dave just retired, leaving the company in very capable hands. He continues to write about his profession, and even serves as a court expert from time to time.
“As for Bernie, after more than 50 years in the industry throughout the SoCal region, he’s still going strong, and his company continues to grow. Both of these pros have ‘seen it all’ — from underground bunkers and confined space backflow testing and replacement, to giant backflow systems and new design concepts for the landscape industry to control high pressure water breaks with specialty stations and automatic control valves.”
According to Swanson, professionals in the backflow service and testing profession often go unnoticed, and yet they play a crucial role keeping water supplies clean and safe all over the world.
“Without backflow prevention, people would routinely face the risk of consuming water with toxins, chemicals, waste and countless other contaminants,” she says.
It’s with these professionals in mind that Watts inaugurates National Backflow Prevention Day.
“We hope the industry joins us in recognizing the day, and the dedication and hard work of our nation’s backflow heroes,” Swanson says.