Dozens of plumbers crowded the Sedgwick County Commission meeting room Wednesday, urging commissioners not to make a potentially unsafe change to plumbing standards.
But the commission ultimately voted 4-1 to allow plumbers to choose between two different codes when they do jobs at homes and businesses. The split vote followed about three hours of heated debate between plumbers and commissioners, particularly Chairman Jim Howell. Commissioner Tim Norton voted no.
The vote allows the International Plumbing Code in the unincorporated parts of the county and in some small cities. Most plumbers spoke in favor of the current code, the Uniform Plumbing Code.
“This dual code system used only in county jurisdiction could be used as a pilot program,” said Assistant County Manager Thomas Stolz.
Stolz said the international code is less regulatory but still safe. He added that the dual system would help the county determine the safety and viability of the international code.
John Clark and other plumbers raised concerns that the international code allows a type of mechanical valve that can fail and allow sewer gas to seep into buildings.
“The presence of the gases could cause an explosive atmosphere or an oxygen-deficient atmosphere, which would be dangerous to health and environment,” Clark said. “The IPC falls short of protecting the public health, safety and welfare.”
Brian Burnett said many plumbers feel their time was wasted while trying to advise the county on new plumbing codes.
“Any beta test that can bring potential harm to a community is simply a bad idea,” Burnett said. “At the end of the day, the customer, the end user, is the ultimate loser in this experiment.”
Commissioners said health and safety concerns were overblown.
“A lot of people like to use public health as a way to fearmonger and to push for increased regulation,” Commissioner Richard Ranzau said.
Some accused Howell of politicizing the issue and implying plumbers were uninformed. Howell, who frequently talked from the bench in favor of the change, said they were not taking away the current uniform code.
“It’s another option. It’s freedom,” Howell said. “I did not expect the same type of resistance to allowing those that like (the international code) the right to choose.”