Overhaul of New York City Plumbing Code – Testing Now Required for Backflow Prevention Devices

On July 1, 2008, the New York City Department of Buildings (DOB) implemented a new plumbing code. It is the first major revision to the code since 1968 and places a new emphasis on backflow prevention – the backflow of contaminated water into a building's water supply. The new law requires that any backflow preventer installed at the point of use must be tested by a licensed backflow preventer device tester prior to use. It must then be tested annually and each test must be submitted to the Department of Buildings. This is a major step forward in protecting New York City's drinking water from end-user contamination.

What are returns?


Backflow preventers, also called RPZs, protect the city's water supply from outside contamination. The devices work by allowing water to flow in only one direction – be it into a boiler, a doctor's office, a dentist's chair or into the building itself. RPZs are required wherever an end user poses a risk of contaminating municipal water.

Backflow preventers are required in public water systems to prevent contaminants from entering the public water system through back-sucking or backflow of water and contaminants. A qualified tester licensed by the New York State Department of Health tests containment devices, which include dual check valves and negative pressure zone devices, to ensure the devices are functioning properly.

In an unprotected system, water can – and does – flow both in and out of a building or facility. The backflow is called back siphonage. If the water supply on the street or in a building is interrupted for any reason, a drop in pressure occurs, which can send contaminated water back into the water system. This recently happened in South Jamaica, Queens, at a car wash without an RPZ. Apparently a significant amount of dry cleaning fluid from the car wash was sucked back into the neighborhood's drinking water. Residents reported a strange, sweet taste in their water. Although the liquid was not immediately harmful to her, the event was cause for concern.

It's not just cleaning fluid that can contaminate New York's water; Bacteria and pathogens of all kinds can get back into the water system from air conditioning cooling towers and medical and dental offices. In fact, backflow from a hotel air conditioning system is believed to have caused what is now known as Legionnaires' disease. Seventeen people who were attending a convention in Philadelphia in the late 1970s were killed.

Failure to introduce new regulations

Although New Yorkers will be better protected from waterborne pollutants starting July 1, there is a loophole in the new rules: They only apply to newly installed devices. The backflow preventers installed in the 1970s and 1980s, which are at greatest risk of failure, still do not require testing or maintenance. The recent major progress New York City has made in drinking water protection is not enough to provide comprehensive protection. For directors and managers requiring further information on this complicated topic, please contact [email protected].

Paul Paddock is president of Backflow Prevention of New York, a company that designs, installs, tests and repairs all makes and models of backflow preventers.

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