Part 1, Looking Back

In order for us to understand the history of where cross connection control began, we must first take a look back to the history of plumbing and water distribution systems.  Since the beginning of time, clean water has always been vital to survival of the human race.  By 300 BC, the Roman Empire had a population of nearly half a million people.  The Romans realized the importance of water to their Empire, so they began designing and building intricate canals and aqueducts for the importing of water from far away and distributing that water throughout the city of Rome.  The Romans also came up with the design of a sewer system to flush away the wastes that too often contaminated the water supplies that were being utilized.  The word “plumber” itself comes from the Romans and the Latin language, deriving from the word plumbum which meant lead, which is what was used in those times for distribution pipes.  The idea of plumbing quickly spread to other parts of the world including Greece, Persia and China.  However, after the fall of the Roman Empire, much of the sophistication that the Romans implemented was lost until the Industrial Revolution.

Beginning in the late 1700s in Britain, the Industrial Revolution began a renewed interest in water distribution and waste removal systems.  By the mid-1800s, Europe and the United States both recognized the importance of water as growing cities were pressed to develop new ideas to distribute clean water to its citizens and provide water for the manufacturing processes that were being developed.  In addition, waste water removal was necessary to fight the rising number of cases of diseases such as typhoid and cholera.  By the turn of the 20th century, there were nearly 150 public water supplies in the United States.  In 1912, the US Congress adopted the Public Health Service Act to survey and study the cause and affects of water pollution on the public health.  As a result, in 1914, the first federal water standards were created by the Public Health Services.

It is safe to say that ever since man has put water into pipes for distribution, cross connections and backflow incidents have occurred.  However, reporting of such incidents just did not happen very often.  That all changed August 16, 1933 at the Worlds Fair in Chicago, Illinois.  An amoebic dysentery outbreak resulted in 98 deaths and nearly 2,000 illnesses.  It wasn’t until months later, when all of these cases were being reported around the country and abroad, that it was eventually traced back to the Worlds Fair and in particular two specific hotels that shared the same rooftop water tower.  An investigation learned that the water being used for potable usage was also being used for cooling and air conditioning purposes.  As a result, the hotels were ordered to rearrange their entire plumbing systems.

Coming up in Part 2, 20th Century Cross Connection, we will look at the formation of several organizations and plumbing codes, as well as SDWA 1974 that were instrumental in developing the cross connection control methods and standards that we know today.