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180 Volts From Water Stream To Ground

This pic was sent to me today. It was taken in Iraq in March 2006. What you are seeing is 180.6 volts ac being read between the water stream and ground. No….the breaker is not tripping. Yes this photo is being sent to the appropriate people.

As you are aware there have been 18 accidental electrocutions in Iraq. Yes, some have died from accidental contact with power lines. But there has been at least one Soldier who died while in the shower. SSG Ryan Maseth was electrocuted and died while in his shower at his camp in Baghdad. Shocks in the bathroom are not an isolated incident and are much more common than what KBR or DoD admits.

Countrywide independent electrical inspections are about to start in Iraq. They have their work cut out for them.

Kudos to this electrician that had the forethought to take this photo. And thank you for sending it to me. If any of you have photos you would like to share send them to me.

Ms Sparky

my image


  1. Comment by bigA26:

    Wow!! That’s totally unacceptable. It’s a good thing that these inspections are starting. This is the beginning of a long process to get these sort of things fixed. I just hope that no more of our soldiers get killed in meantime.

    Ms Sparky’s Response:
    You and me both! Soldiers and Civilians are both exposed to this hazard.

  2. Comment by Lil Tuffy:

    I don’t understand what I’m looking at…can you explain for those who don’t know about electrical wiring, etc…

    How does someone get shocked from a situation like this?

    Ms Sparky’s Response:
    What you are looking at is 180 volts of electricity that is running through the plumbing system instead of the electrical system.

    The current path is now from the plumbing to ground. If you complete the circuit by touching the plumbing (washing your hands) and touch or stand on something grounded. You very likely will get shocked.

    I hope that clears it up a little. I will rewrite the post a bit to clarify.


  3. Comment by joetedesco:

    Thanks Debbie:

    I can see where we inspectors will have to be extral careful, this is a good case for baby wipes instead, and hand cleaner dispensers!

    How about the latrines, what if the dude or dude lady while sitting or standing near the pisser has some contact with the splash there?

    Could make an old man new again!

    Do they use insulated handles on the metal handles!

    Ms Sparky’s Response:
    Actually as I recall they use both. I though about getting electrocuted on the toilet. I suppose it definitely could happen.

  4. Comment by kbsparky:

    I assume that the nominal voltage over there is 240? (50 Hz?)

    Looks like the water pipes have not been properly bonded to the electric service?

    Ms Sparky’s Response:
    Yes.. so sorry. I left that out of the post. I will add it. 250 VAC 50 Hz Thanks

  5. Comment by iconsult:

    One possible answer is that the piping for the water is non-metallic. There could be a pin hole in the electric water heater element and inducing live voltage in the water system. If the piping is non-metallic, there is no way to elinate the voltage through ground. The amount of voltage in water depends on the mineral content. Distilled water will not conduct and salt water is a good conductor. The water in the photo is between distilled at salt. In order for the breaker to trip or fuse to blow, the current (not voltage) has to be more that the breaker/fuse setting.

    Ms Sparky’s Response:
    Correct me if I’m wrong. If the hot water heater is properly grounded and bonded to a system that is properly grounded, and the breaker is functioning properly, it should have tripped on ground fault current.

    The trailers that I am familiar with used plastic pipe (assume PVC) for the plumbing. In the existing buildings, Iraqi’s used metal pipe for the most part. I am very certain this is a trailer.

  6. Comment by wblmom:

    Holy Crap!!!
    If I was there I would be one stinky mother, for sure. That just scares the crap out of me just thinking about it and how the simple things of brushing your teeth or taking a shower can cause injury or even your life.

    Ms Sparky’s Response:
    Yep…that’s the problem.

  7. Comment by AlcoElectrical:

    I suppose that checking for voltage and energized items and articles upon entering the living quarters would be in order.
    I will be bringing a voltage tick tester with me, as they may not at least provide one. I at first will be simply checking for the field before touching anything.

    Ms Sparky’s Response:
    Hey Allan!! I’d take some wet wipes too…
    That sounds so amazing that you are going to have to check for voltage on your plumbing before you brush your teeth!!! But it’s true!!! I am getting the particulars on this one.

  8. Comment by BB:

    Until the issues have been corrected, maybe providing AC voltage detectors in appropriate locals would be useful. This would allow a person to check the sink, toilet, shower…prior to using them. The detectors only cost about $10.00 apiece and training is simple. What do you think?

    Ms Sparky’s Response:
    Brilliant!! This problem is so prolific and widespread. I love it. You could hang one in each bathroom or check one out to each occupant. I think they are actually less than $10.00 but by the time KBR marked them up they would be $50. I like it a lot. This would just be a proactive approach to reducing electrical shock in the bathrooms until the issue is resolved. This is not a solution to the problem.

    I am going to pass this idea on, and I will make sure you get the credit!! Well done.

    Ms Sparky

  9. Comment by sherman:

    Make sure you purchase tick tracers good for 50 hz electrical systems.
    Ms Sparky’s Response:
    I’ll make sure to mention that.

  10. Comment by Told U So:

    This is normally caused by 2 things;
    1. The pressure switch on the pump is a NEMA 1 and water is leaking accross the contacts.(should be a NEMA 3R since pump is usually located outside)
    2. The hot water heater element is bad or starting to go bad.
    Forget the breaker. KBR purchases the cheap ones which means a typical 20 Amp breaker might trip as little as 2 Amps or never trip at all and catch on fire! Additionally the ground system is probably not bonded to the cold water line and the soil may be so dry that there is a high impedance to ground via the ground rod. An electrolitic ground would be nice but too costly to install. A solution might be to dig a footing at the generator and install a ufer ground. (Dope the soil up around the footing) I proposed ufer grounds while working in Baghdad only to have my suggestions discounted. The other fix would be to buy quality European breakers and throw out the cheap Chinese breakers! They do make GFCI Single Pole and GFCI Main breakers.

    Ms Sparky’s Response:
    That’s as good a guess as any. Here’s what happened and I would have never guessed it. One of the hots was landed on the ground lug and the ground was landed on L1. The ground on the J-Box was cut off and the plumbing system was not properly grounded and grounded. Who would’ve guess that?

  11. Comment by spark1:

    I know you said here`s what happend and being in Iraq working as a electrician I can belive it but what if someone got a 180 volt reading on something other then the water and then hit the hold button and then moved the meter to the sink for the pic.OR if the pic is real then maybe the metal of the AB unit has 180 volts and not the water.I have seen voltage on grounds and grounded conductors {neutrals}

    Ms Sparky’s Response
    It’s great that people question. It’s keeps it honest. Here’s how it happened. The system is 250/400 approx. One hot leg got terminated to the ground lug and the ground got terminated to L1. Evidently it kept tripping the breaker so they (the manufacturer probably) cut off the ground in the J-box on the wall. (Not the guys in the photo) The plumbing system was not properly bonded and grounded. These guys were called to troubleshoot when the occupant kept getting shocked at the sink. Seriously, there’s just too much real stuff like this over there fake it. Thanks.

  12. Comment by Told U So:

    Had the same problem at good old Rusty where my friend, a foreign national, was electrocuted and almost died. Through my investigation I found out that some of the unsupervised TCNs (third country national) were rewiring a building. The TCNs had installed a light fixture and had wired it incorrectly. The breaker kept tripping so they decided to disconnect the circuit’s ground! After doing so they found that the breaker held. Well..the current found a new path to ground through the buildings rebar and metal plumbing pipes. My friend was shocked severely in the shower and had exit wounds. I was pissed!
    When I found out about the electrical problem I went to the building to see if I could help. My presence was not appreciated. The electrical foreman and the chief of services were not happy to see me.
    Later, They informed me that they were going to “run me off” and that I would have to pay taxes on all the money I was paid since I wouldn’t make the one year IRS rule.
    Well, They didn’t shut me up and I made the 1 year cut off!

    Ms Sparky’s Response:
    Damn he was lucky! Glad you stuck it out.

  13. Comment by Phil:

    Hi, I just saw you on the Rachel Maddow show. Great work! I’m still confused about this photo, though. The black (-) meter lead goes off the left edge of the photo. Where was it connected? The screw of an outlet or switch box? You mention a J-box, was that what you meant?

    My question is, exactly what was hot relative to real earth? The sink faucet or the junction box on the wall, or both?

    Just who is doing this work? Do they know that insulation color codes vary from country to country?

    Is this power fed from a utility or from a generator? Doesn’t anybody believe in GFCIs??

  14. Comment by Phil:

    Oh, *now* I understand. I only just saw the second photo showing the water heater. So the phase and ground were swapped going into the water heater, 240V was applied to the chassis of the water heater, and because the water piping wasn’t grounded, the 240V came out on the heater’s water piping to the sink.

    I guess it makes water hot in more than the usual way.

    It wasn’t even a leak, or a piece of scuffed insulation, but an actual miswiring — which they “fixed” by clipping the safety ground. Incredible!

  15. Comment by Corky Bates:

    How many plastic j-boxes have cover screws that are bonded? Are there any real electricians here? The screw that is being tested is ISOLATED…..hmmmmmmm. It appears to me that this photo is’fixed’.

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