Reports of backflow contamination have become increasingly rare because backflow prevention devices work - at least for the most part. In March 2020, at the beginning of the pandemic, the last thing residents of Castelvetro, Italy were likely thinking about was their drinking water. So imagine their surprise when they turned on their faucets and showers only to find red wine flowing out of them! According to an article on cnn.com, a faulty valve at a nearby winery was to blame, and the issue was fixed within hours. Fabrizio Amorotti, commercial manager at the Cantina Settecani winery, told CNN that the malfunction "was appreciated by many,” and that some residents even bottled the wine!
Some of our customers who have worked in the cross connection industry for decades have regaled us with laugh out loud stories about similar incidents, including one in the 1980s involving wine in a Georgia town’s water supply. This blog writer tried to find information about it online, but I’m guessing it was never reported through official channels, which is often the case. Unfortunately, the continued lack of formal reporting makes it difficult for local and national agencies to get an accurate count of backflow contamination cases.
The good news is that the number of reported cases have dramatically decreased in the decades since the passage of the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) in 1974. The SDWA marked a pivotal change in how state and local agencies regulated safe drinking water, and it increased the public's awareness around water safety issues. The SDWA was created in response to mounting evidence in the 1960s that industrial runoff and synthetic chemicals were leaching into the nation’s water supply, causing serious illness and in some cases, even death.
According to a 2002 report by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), public health officials documented “over 46,000 cases of waterborne illnesses caused by chlorine-resistant pathogens” from 1961 to 1970. After the passage of the SDWA, the number of reported cases between 1981 and 1998 dropped by almost 75 percent to about 9,700.
Reported incidents in the last two decades have been few and far between. A lot of this is in large part due to the SDWA and other regulatory actions by the EPA, and efforts by state and local agencies. In fact, a 2010 study by the EPA noted that more than 90 percent of water customers in the United States have access to safe drinking water. However, the White House noted in a recent report that up to "10 million American households and 400,000 schools and child care centers still lack safe drinking water."
These numbers will likely significantly decrease with the recent passage of the infrastructure bill, which includes $55 billion over five years to help improve water systems and replace all lead pipes across the country. The White House said this represents the "largest investment in clean drinking water in American history."
There's no question that we've come a long way since the SDWA passed. The infrastructure bill represents another major step forward in expanding American's access to safe, clean drinking water. We know that our customers' continued commitment to water safety will surely be a part of these efforts. And for that, we couldn't be more grateful.