Plumbing Professionals Needs Primary Education on Secondary Water Disinfection.

Educating Plumbing Professionals About Water

Harold Weil – As a plumbing engineer professional, it always bothered me to hear or read about an outbreak of Legionnaires Disease or instances of Legionella contamination that was tied to a building’s water supply. You can call it professional empathy—the “There but for the grace of God” kind of feeling.

But I am beginning to learn that the plumbing profession probably plays a greater role in Legionnaires Disease prevention than do doctors, infection control professionals, HVAC engineers, water treatment specialists and microbiologists. It is an education I received recently, almost by chance, from the folks at LiquiTech, when they reached out to me recently to discuss the pitfalls of waterborne pathogens and their offering to the field of medical grade, secondary water disinfection—copper silver ionization.  It was eye opening.

First, a quick discussion of the relationship of a plumbing designer, a licensed journeyman plumber and a plumbing inspector as it exists for any and all commercial plumbing construction installations.

An architect presents the overall design for a building structure but he must hand over the plumbing design to a licensed professional engineer.  The licensed professional engineer does not always have the expertise to design a code compliant design and, in fact, the detailed designs are often crafted by a licensed plumbing professional.  I myself have performed in this capacity on many occasions for a design firm as well as private contractors, especially for design-build contractors.

A plumbing contractor must then perform the installation of the plumbing design with licensed journeymen plumbers and also must possess the qualified plumbing professionals capable to alter the design to meet all local plumbing codes.  If a plumbing contractor does not employ this type of professional, an outside consultant must be hired for this role.  This is a service I have also provided as an AutoCad designer and specialty plumbing designer covering many different types of installations.

The final component of the plumbing installation process is the effort conducted by the plumbing inspector.  The inspector must possess many of the above mentioned experiences, expertise and code compliance knowledge in order to make a final judgment call, before the municipality can grant a certificate of occupancy.  An oversight on the inspector’s part could place the municipality in a compromised position.  The experiences of a licensed plumber, a plumbing systems designer, an estimator, and a project manager for the past 40 years, plus the mandated on-going continuing education, have prepared me for the responsibilities required for a competent plumbing inspector.

All plumbing inspectors must strive to achieve this high standard and continue the necessary and extensive education that the plumbing field demands, as code changes are introduced and new technologies are implemented.  Secondary water treatment via copper silver ionization is a prime example of a technology that is available for protecting the potable water supply.  Efforts, by experts in this field, must be initiated through education and awareness of the technology to the plumbing industry and the plumbing professionals at each and every level.  The need to square the circle on this vital issue is paramount to our health related profession.

I would anticipate in the future, more and more projects primary and secondary water disinfection design requirements must be considered by plumbing engineers. Herein lies the education required to make the design call as not all disinfection is required by code. This could lead to it being an afterthought that does not become part of the original scope of work.  This opens up the possibility that a liability could exist with a design compromised by the omission of technology, like copper silver ionization, that later could be argued as a factor in preventing an outbreak.  This possibility hits home with me because I was once a general plumbing manager on a mega project in Eastern Europe that presented exposure to fatal diseases if certain procedures were not followed.  I was required to perform a self-plumbing inspection as no outside or municipal agencies existed.  If I failed in this capacity, I would have answered to the police!

It is easy to understand how the plumbing industry is constantly subject to change as contamination is ever present to compromise potable water systems that all civilizations depend on.  In my experience, plumbing professionals and even many health officials are not up to speed on this subject and must be educated as to the toxins, microbes, and viruses that are in the ready to do us harm without our knowledge.  Winston Churchill almost succumbed to a fatal waterborne illness. Imagine the turn of events in the world if that were the case.  I have taken the time to educate myself and glean all available documentation and information available on contamination issues for the health, medical and plumbing professions.  Continuing education and research for all of the above plumbing disciplines are paramount to keeping current with these issues and of course competency on the different water disinfectant technologies available at this time.

About the Author: Harold Weil is currently a municipal plumbing inspector, operating out of the Chicago suburbs following a 40-year career as a commercial plumbing contractor and plumbing engineer.  He can be reached at hwbuild@att.net