Flint, Mich., has been receiving a lot of press lately regarding its public water supply. I won’t go into the politics of Flint or the State of Michigan. Nor do I want to cover what is happening to the water in Flint. Enough has been written about that.
What is more important is that Flint is receiving a lot of headlines. I think it’s great as it is bringing attention to the quality of drinking water. Water quality is what plumbing is all about. As a profession, we truly do protect the health of the nation by assuring high-quality drinking water.
What is interesting is that, if you go back 50 years, nobody would care about Flint’s water. The water would have been listed as acceptable. Today, it is horrible water. This is all thanks to our profession.
As an industry, we raised the issue of drinking water. We raised the importance of protecting public health through acceptable drinking water. We helped to create the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. That’s right, the Office of Drinking Water has the plumbing industry to thank. At the same time, we have to thank it for making sure the quality of our water remains high.
When was the last time you heard of an outbreak of cholera or typhoid fever in the United States? You don’t hear about these illnesses anymore, at least not in this country.
I recently had to get pills for vaccination against typhoid fever prior to my trip to Ghana. Our health insurance did not cover the cost of the vaccination because typhoid doesn’t occur in the United States. I loved that response. My intent was to pay for the vaccination anyway. I was just happy our country recognizes that typhoid is a disease of the past. The same cannot be said for Africa.
Typhoid, cholera and similar waterborne diseases have been nearly eradicated in this country, thanks to the diligent work of providing backflow protection. I am often asked if we go overboard with backflow protection requirements in the plumbing codes. My answer is always “no.” If anything, we don’t go far enough. We don’t emphasize annual testing. It’s in the code, we just have it kind of hidden. I wish we could put flashing lights around that section.
Who has the best drinking water in the world? We do — the United States of America. The second-best drinking water system is Canada. If you want to experience drinking water that is not fit to drink, take a vacation to Mexico and drink the water from the tap. They don’t call it Montezuma’s revenge for nothing. Do the same on a number of the Caribbean islands.
On one Caribbean island, I was assisting with the resort’s plumbing systems. You had to see the size of their treatment plant. The water was not an acceptable quality so they built an entire water treatment plant just for the resort. Interestingly, the resort was built using the U.S. plumbing codes. They also followed the water-quality requirements of the EPA. But this island was not part of the United States. It just goes to show you the respect we have throughout the world regarding water quality.
Is bottled water necessary?
Some of your customers think they need to buy bottled water and not drink out of their faucets. Of course, you know that isn’t necessary. Keep telling your customers the drinking water is great. Perhaps you should hand out water bottles with your company name and logo on them to promote how good the water is in their home.
We happen to have a large bottling plant in my town. They produce 1,600 bottles of water every minute, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. If you do the math, it’s just under a billion bottles of water a year. That’s a lot of bottled water.
You may be asking, “Where does the bottling plant get its water?” It comes out of the water main in my town, the same water I drink in my house. The water runs through a 100 mesh filter to remove any solids. Then the water runs through an activated charcoal filter to remove the chlorine. Finally, they add ozone to the water right before it is capped. That’s it. Basically, they are bottling the same water I drink out of my tap. The difference is, they bottle and sell it in the supermarket.
By the way, thousands of those bottles of water from our local bottling plant were shipped to Flint. I’m proud our bottling plant could help the people in Flint drink safe water.
If you travel overseas, ask for a glass of water out of the tap to drink. In most countries, they’ll look at you like you are on drugs. “We don’t drink that water, it’s dirty.” Trust me, that’s the response you will get. It is the response I received the one time I was foolish enough to ask.
The bottom line is, we as a profession have become complacent. We don’t do enough to promote to our customers, and our communities, that the plumbing profession is protecting their drinking water. We don’t emphasize that unlicensed plumbers or handymen don’t get the training we do for backflow protection. If you want to maintain high-quality water, you have to turn to the plumbing profession. We protect the quality of water in this country. We prevent backflow occurrences and cross connections.
This has all come to light as I get ready to embark on a medical mission to Ghana. I am the only plumbing professional on this mission trip. Everyone else is in the medical profession. All my doctor friends have told me: “You need to straighten out the water in Ghana. You need to educate the people on the importance of only drinking water that is properly treated.”
At our meetings leading up to the mission trip, the doctors told me, “The main things we are treating when we get there are intestinal problems that are all related to drinking contaminated water. If you could just get the water straightened out, we could spend our time on other medical issues.”
It’s all about the water. Remember, we have the best water in the world!