Published By: Build Health International

Contractor Magazine: Providing a Basic Human Right

This story is excerpted from an article written by Kelly Falloon for Contractor Magazine. 

In the United States, most of us take our potable water supply for granted. We have safe water to drink and cook with, as well as readily available hot water to bathe in. We have professional, licensed plumbing professionals to design, install and repair our plumbing systems—and ensure our health and safety.

Yet more than 2 million Americans live without running water and basic plumbing, notes “Closing the Water Access Gap in the United States,” a new report by the human-rights nonprofit DigDeep and the nonprofit U.S. Water Alliance.

“While the majority of Americans take high-quality drinking water and sanitation access for granted, millions of the most vulnerable people in the country … have fallen through the cracks,” the report says. “Their communities did not receive adequate water and wastewater infrastructure when the nation made historic investments in these systems in past decades. That initial lack of investment created a hidden water and sanitation crisis that continues to threaten the health and wellbeing of millions of people today.”

Globally, 2.4 billion people lack access to essential sanitation services such as toilets and latrines, the United Nations notes. One of its 17 sustainable goals for the planet is clean water and sanitation (www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/water-and-sanitation/). While the proportion of the global population using an improved drinking water source has increased from 76 percent in 1990 to 90 percent in 2015, there is still much work to be done:

  •  Water scarcity affects more than 40 percent of the global population and is projected to rise.
  •  More than 80 percent of wastewater resulting from human activities is discharged into rivers or sea without any pollution removal.
  •  Each day, nearly 1,000 children die due to preventable water and sanitation-related diarrheal diseases.

A Need to Serve

So what can the plumbing community do to help? That was the question asked by certified plumber Domenico DiGregorio; his wife, Carmela DiGregorio; certified plumber Fred Volkers; and his wife, Judy Volkers. After the horrifying 2010 earthquake in Haiti, and watching as the global plumbing community came to the country’s aid, the two retired Seattle plumbers committed themselves to facilitate plumbing and sanitation projects for communities in need—wherever they may be.

Thus, Plumbers Without Borders was born, its mission to “connect and mobilize volunteer plumbers and industry resources with organizations and projects dedicated to safe water and sanitation.” Domenico DiGregorio serves as the nonprofit organization’s president and board chair; Fred Volkers serves as vice president and vice chairman of the board; Carmela DiGregorio is the executive director; and Judy Volkers, a registered nurse, serves on the board.

The Power of Partnerships

To accomplish the organization’s vision of “a world where everyone has access to safe water and sanitation—where senseless suffering and disease is eradicated by the implementation of appropriate plumbing and sanitary systems,” connections and partnerships are crucial.

“The collective desire to serve others in need and be a part of creating the change that’s needed in the world is like a force of nature—it’s self-propelling,” Carmela DiGregorio notes. “Thankfully, our peers and our industry’s leaders have supported our efforts with sponsorship donations as well as in-kind plumbing materials and fixtures donated directly to the projects.”

American Standard Brands was the first corporate sponsor of Plumbers Without Borders six years ago and is still its staunchest supporter, she says, helping to launch and develop the volunteer database. That support continues with donations of fixtures for several PWB-related projects, including hospitals in Haiti, an outreach center in Flint and tiny homes for the homeless in Seattle.

Most recently, one of PWB’s newest sponsors, Zurn Industries, donated 140 toilets for new hospitals to be built in Haiti by Boston-based Build Health International, a PWB connection.

PWB coordinated several community projects with the help of UA Local 32 members in Seattle, Domenico DiGregorio says, as well as UA Local 12 in Boston, which recently facilitated a large donation of fixtures from mechanical engineering contractor EM Duggan to support Build Health International projects.