Julius Ballanco: Not much changed at IAPMO
I recently finished reading the Dan Abram’s book, “Theodore Roosevelt for the Defense: The Courtroom Battle to Save His Legacy,” about Theodore Roosevelt’s trial where he was accused of defamation and libel. The trial was based on an article Teddy Roosevelt wrote about the corruption of the party boss in the state of New York. Roosevelt’s article picked on the main power broker who ran the Republican party but was never elected to any office. The party boss sued Roosevelt.
The book came to mind as I sat through the IAPMO annual conference code hearing in Reno, Nevada. The IAPMO process at the annual conference is rather unique. You never know what code change will be discussed. The chairman of the Standards Council starts with the Plumbing Code and calls for discussion on any code change in Chapter 1. The chair systematically calls one chapter after another.
Once an individual rises to discuss a given code change, everything stops and that code change is addressed. A motion is made to approve or disapprove a code change. The technical merits of the code change are then discussed by proponents and opponents. When all the discussion is exhausted, a vote is taken to either accept the motion or reject it.
What was interesting was the concept of “party boss” that was in Abram’s book. The union coalition appeared to have, using the term in the book, two “party bosses” at the IAPMO code hearing. As you watched each code change discussion, one of the two party bosses would rise and say they either support or oppose the issue. On very important issues, both party bosses testified.
As everyone in attendance knew, when the party boss spoke, the vast majority of the voting audience received their message as to how to vote. When the vote was taken, 150 cards would be raised to support the party boss.
It really didn’t matter how good or how bad the testimony on the code change was, the vote was already determined. Some excellent testimony appeared to be largely ignored since the outcome was previously established.
More change chatter
Two code changes, that had some excellent discussion, were a UL standard for pipe located in a plenum, and the cured-in-place piping for cast-iron piping systems. For the latter issue, the Uniform Plumbing Code currently prohibits the use of cured-in-place piping systems if the base material is cast iron. The system can be used in any other piping material.
When asked why the cured-in-place system cannot be with a cast-iron piping system, there is no good technical answer. The reason often used is that the cast-iron pipe standards prohibit repairing cast iron in the field. However, the cured-in-place is not a repair system; it is a replacement of the existing pipe with a new pipe inside the existing pipe.
None of this seemed to matter. The party bosses said you cannot use this system on cast iron. The motion to remove the restriction on using the system with cast-iron pipe received about 10 votes. The opposition was more than 150 votes.
The UL standard for plastic pipe in plenums is UL 2846. This standard was proposed to the UMC for plastic water piping. UL representatives made a compelling argument for adding the standard to the code. The plastic pipe manufacturers also spoke in support of the system.
The party bosses both spoke in opposition to the standard. They supported only requiring compliance with ASTM E84 with a flame spread of 25 or less, and a smoke-developed index of 50 or less. All of the follow-up testimony was fruitless. The membership overwhelmingly voted to not accept UL 2846.
There were a few changes to update standards in the UMC. Two involved ammonia systems; the other was for electrical appliances and refrigeration equipment. While the updating of standards is normally a routine process, that was not to be. The party bosses declared that the Technical Committee did not have the opportunity to review the new editions of the standards, therefore, they were opposed. Mind you, there is no requirement in the IAPMO procedures that requires the Technical Committee to review an updated standard before it is accepted.
That didn’t seem to matter — the party bosses had spoken. The typical 150-plus votes were against the updating of the standards.
The only change that occurred during both the plumbing and mechanical code hearings was the modification to the reference to ASSE 1023. That seemed to be rather straightforward. The updating of this standard, as anticipated by the Plumbing Technical Committee, was not completed. As such, the revised language cannot be accepted.
While this code change seemed to be very straightforward, the party bosses testified in support, so the masses knew how they were supposed to vote.
As one testifier stated after the conclusion of the hearings, “I wish we didn’t have to waste money going through this charade. Why don’t they just tell us ahead of time if they are going to accept our change?”
Basically, the implication was that the system is flawed. When you sit through the hearings, you know that you are playing to only a few individuals. The others are in the room to simply vote how they are instructed to vote.
While the union is proud of its organization, it is actually a disservice to IAPMO. IAPMO is a fine organization with a wonderful staff. The rest of the conference and educational programs were excellent. However, 150-plus individuals chose to hijack the code change process and remove all appearance of being an open process.
The only saving feature to the IAPMO process is that the Standards Council and technical committees are balanced and provide the final review of all code changes. The consensus technical committees and the Standards Council normally do a good job in deciding the appropriate outcome to the code changes.
IAPMO could consider eliminating the membership vote since it doesn’t lend itself to a truly open democratic process.
However, it would be better to leave it in place. One day another group may decide to pack the room to out-vote the union block.
That would be interesting to see.