A new study titled “Long-Term Behavior of Simulated Partial Lead Service Line Replacements” and published in the journal Environmental Engineering Science has revealed that partially replacing lead water pipes with copper pipes increases the risks of having lead leak into drinkable water supply, just as can be seen recently in Flint, Michigan, and in Washington DC.
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The authors of the study pointed out that using partial lead and copper pipe to replace faulty water pipes raises the dangers of lead exposure to harmful levels, something that can lead to children’s death in many cases.
The research was carried out by Justin St. Clair, Simoni Triantafyllidou, Brandi Clark, and Marc Edwards of Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, and Clement Cartier of Claro, Canada over a 4-year period to evaluate the effects of using three different configurations for water service line replacements.
These three configurations are: using 100% lead; using 50% copper and 50% lead for partial replacement; and using only 50% lead pipe upstream of 50% copper.
The researchers were able to establish that increased corrosion of lead rose over time for the 50% copper configuration with 140% lead released into water supply within 14 months. Water samples collected from partial configurations showed 100% lead contamination compared to the 0% found in water sample collected from 100% lead pipe.
"This research demonstrates conclusively that if pipe replacements are to be conducted in response to water lead contamination events such as those that occurred in Washington, DC in 2001-2004 or Flint, MI in 2014-2015, half measures can create a worse problem than doing nothing," revealed Marc Edwards, coauthor and international water quality expert.
The health expert noted that corrosion between the copper and lead configurations can occur leading to intense health risks when lead pipe are replaced with copper pipe. Edwards added that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and public utilities companies should only allow the use of complete replacements instead of partial replacements, and where partial replacements must occur, then the use of plastic pipes instead of copper pipes.
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"The expectation in the United States is that when we turn on the faucets in our homes, the water that pours out is safe to consume," said Domenico Grasso, Editor-in-Chief of Environmental Engineering Science and Provost, University of Delaware, Newark. "This critically important paper has uncovered an important health risk that is being involuntarily assumed by many Americans as a result of historical water line maintenance practices."