Last month, I reported on the Texas legislature’s failure to act on sunset legislation that would have allowed for the continuance of the Texas Board of Plumbing Examiners. It takes some time to go from writing to print and distribution, so a lot has happened since I first reported on this issue.
Soon after the news of the impending abolishment of the Texas Board of Plumbing Examiners spread around the industry, the plumbing industry mobilized and marched on the Texas capitol building in large numbers. In addition to the concerns of the plumbing industry, many concerned citizens, property owners and other industry trade groups voiced their concerns. The governor was facing the prospect of everyone in Texas being able to call themselves plumbers, with no training or licensing, after the board expired.
The Texas State Board of Plumbing Examiners was on track to shut down by Sept. 1, 2020. In the executive order, Gov. Greg Abbott stated that the action to abolish the board was initially thought to be necessary because many plumbers were needed in Texas to address the destruction and rebuilding efforts after Hurricane Harvey.
He realized that eliminating the training, testing and licensing laws for plumbers because of a temporary hurricane damage situation was bad for the overall continued health and safety of the public. Anyone could, without training, install medical gasses in hospitals, drinking water systems, water heaters that could leak and cause fires or explosion, water lines that could cause leaks and water damage, and flues for combustion gases that could leak and cause carbon monoxide deaths or fires.
On June 13, 2019, Gov. Abbott issued an executive order to extend the Texas State Board of Plumbing Examiners and the plumbing licensing law until 2021 to allow the next legislature to consider the issue. The plumbing industry needs to ensure their elected officials are educated on the topic and address this issue properly in the next legislative session.
Forever Chemicals in Drinking Water
The United States Senate voted on a bill as part of the National Defense Authorization Bill, which would require the U.S. military and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to deal with “forever chemicals” in the nation’s drinking water. The Senate bill would require an increased response from the government to deal with harmful chemicals that have leached into the water in many states.
Included in the legislation is language that would push the EPA to set a national drinking water standard for a class of chemicals known as polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which have been linked with cancer and other health problems. The EPA has said it will decide by the end of the year whether to regulate the chemicals that are so persistent in the environment they’ve been deemed “forever chemicals.” The bill directs the military to stop using PFAS, which are found in many products.
Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are part of a group of man-made chemicals in use since the 1940s. They have been found in many consumer products such as cookware, food packaging and stain repellants. PFAS manufacturing and processing facilities, airports and military installations that use firefighting foams are some of the primary sources of PFAS contamination. PFAS may be released into the air, soil and water, including sources of drinking water.
These toxic substances have been the most extensively produced and studied of these chemicals and have been voluntarily phased out by the industry after discovery of their potential adverse effects on health, though they are still persistent in the environment. There are many other PFAS chemicals, including GenX chemicals and perfluorobutane sulfonate (PFBS) in use throughout our economy.
The bill also directs the U.S. Department of Defense to take more aggressive action on PFAS following an accusation that the Pentagon was trying to weaken EPA regulations that would force the military to take on expensive cleanup costs now estimated in the billions. The bill pushes the Pentagon to finalize agreements with states for cleaning up PFAS contamination caused by the military mainly through the use of firefighting foam. The military would have three years to phase out the use of the foam.
Environmental groups hailed the legislation as an essential first step in dealing with the growing PFAS problem. The Senate version also includes several other environmental measures, including funding for research into carbon capture.
Hot Water in Iceland
During a recent trip to Iceland, I toured a geothermal power plant. Iceland produces 99 percent of its electricity from renewable resources such as geothermal and hydroelectric power plants. The reason they don’t get to claim 100 percent is that in some remote regions of the country, they use fossil-fuel-fired generators for power.
Due to the geological location of Iceland — situated over a rift or crack in the continental plates between the Eurasian plate and the North American plate, which are drifting apart at a rate of about 1 centimeter per year in each direction — the magma from the Earth’s core rises in the crack, creating volcanic activity and geothermal heat.
The high concentration of volcanoes in the area is an advantage for the generation of geothermal energy to produce steam for making electricity. The hot condensed water from the steam is used for heating of homes in hydronic systems, heating of domestic water for approximately 87 percent of all buildings in Iceland. It’s also used for snow melting of streets, sidewalks and driveways during winter months in the Reykjavik area.
Apart from the easily accessible geothermal energy for heating and power generation, about 75 percent of the nation’s electricity is generated by hydropower.
Geothermal energy also provides tourist attractions such as the Blue Lagoon. The geothermal water originates 2,000 meters below the surface, where freshwater and seawater combine at extreme temperatures. It is then harnessed via drilled geothermal water wells at a nearby geothermal power plant to create electricity and hot water for nearby communities. This Blue Lagoon is entirely powered by geothermal energy with condensed steam condensate from the geothermal steam plant and a mixture of seawater.
I had the opportunity to go the Blue Lagoon from 10 p.m. until midnight during mid-June when the sun is out 22 hours a day and it only dips below the horizon for a couple of hours around 1 a.m., but there is still ample daylight for round-the-clock outdoor activities. This abundant sunlight allows for leisure activities such as midnight tee times on the golf course, hiking on black sand beaches, glaciers or volcanoes.
Hiking off an established trail across the volcanic tundra or even a glacier in Iceland can be risky because of the many hidden cracks in the ground that can go down hundreds of feet. My tour guide explained that moss and grasses could hide or partially grow over crevasses, so it is a good idea to stay on the established trails.
Most homes in the Reykjavik area receive geothermal hot water that is pumped through a series of large pipelines that look like the Alaskan oil pipeline and were featured in the movie “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.” The pipes zig-zagged across the horizon and were mounted on rollers to allow for movement from thermal expansion. The pipe was insulated and jacketed with a thinner steel pipe jacket, which could withstand the elements, the weight of the water in the piping and the point loads at the roller supports.
Hot water is supplied to homes and businesses where it can flow through hydronic heating coils or baseboard heaters and heating coils in hot water tanks with the use of solenoid valves or motorized valves connected to thermostatic controls for temperature controls. The space-heating water is not returned to the power plant; each residence has a well where the water is discharged into the ground. The resulting utility bills in Iceland are some of the lowest utility bills in the world.
ASME/CSA Joint Meeting
During the last week of June, I attended a joint meeting of the Canadian Standards Association and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) in the Canadian capital city of Ottawa.
On June 21, 2019, the ASME A112 primary Plumbing Materials and Equipment standards committee, of which I am a member, met to discuss the A112 Plumbing Product and performance standards.
Some of the standards that were discussed as being due for either revisions or reaffirmation included: A112.1.3 – 2000 (R2015) Air Gap Fittings for Use with Plumbing Fixtures, Appliances, and Appurtenances by March 2020; ASME A112.4.2/CSA B45.16 – 2015 Personal Hygiene Devices for Water Closets by March 2020; A112.4.3 – 1999 (R2015) Plastic Fittings for Connecting Water Closets to the Sanitary Drainage System by December 2020; A112.6.7 – 2010 (R2015) Sanitary Floor Sinks by March 2020; A112.6.9 – 2005 (R2015) Siphonic Roof Drains by March 2020.
A presentation was made to the ASME A112 committee to consider the development of what was termed a “cold-start” faucet. It pointed out that many single-handle faucets have a lever often raised in the middle, which allows flow from both hot and cold sides of the faucet. Many times, the user only wants cold water and the raising of a single handle faucet up in a center position could waste previously heated water unnecessarily.
The suggestion was made to develop a class of faucet that opens to cold water flow first and as the faucet is rotated or the lever is moved farther, the water would eventually become hotter. I pointed out that this is similar to what happens with most code-compliant shower valves now and if they develop such a faucet standard, a rotational limit-stop or some other form of restriction to movement toward the hot position can be designed into the faucet to restrict or limit the maximum temperature setting on the faucet.
This would allow the faucet to do two things: save energy by not flowing hot water when not needed and allowing a maximum temperature limit-stop adjustment as a safety feature for faucets. I asked to serve on the task group that will be formed and will be looking into the development of a standard for this kind of product.
I also attended the ASHRAE meetings in Kansas City June 21-26 and participated in meetings for Technical Committee 6.6, service water heating. I also participated in Technical Committee 3.6 meetings for water treatment, meetings for ASHRAE 188 Legionellosis: Risk Management for Building Water Systems, and meetings for ASHRAE Guideline 12, dealing with minimizing Legionella growth in building water systems.
An announcement was made that a new standard titled ASHRAE 514 will cover water safety and risk management for all microorganisms in building water systems. Meetings for the ASHRAE 514 committee working on this standard are tentatively scheduled to begin in mid-September at ASHRAE’s headquarters in Atlanta.
Legionella Conference 2019
The 2019 Legionella Conference, hosted by NSF International and the National Environmental Health Association (NEHA), will be held Sept. 11-13, 2019, at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel & Suites in Los Angeles.
This is a unique, annual event focusing on emerging health, sustainability and energy issues related to building water systems and it brings professionals together to work toward solutions. The conference theme, “Building Water Systems: The Sustainability and Public Health Nexus,” centers on how to align water and energy sustainability and public health goals.
There will be a day-long pre-conference workshop — “Organizing Legionella Outbreak Investigations” — on Sept. 10 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The workshop will include the basics of what a proper response to an outbreak should be and how to perform an emergency remediation procedure.
Hosted by NEHA, NSF International and industry experts, this workshop will provide an introduction to water systems commonly associated with Legionnaires’ disease, how to identify these systems, common sampling points/strategies for these systems, background on environmental factors that amplify Legionella and common control strategies. It concludes with an exercise for how to organize a Legionella investigation.
To register online, go to www.legionellaconference.org/index.php.