Safety Concerns​

Changing products and emerging health and safety issues make designing piping systems a continuing challenge. Here are some key issues that should inform design and construction of piping systems, as well as summaries of recent news and research.

During structure fires and wildfires, piping impacts the safety of buildings and communities. Improperly installed pipe can cause firestop failures, allowing flames and smoke to spread through walls and floors. Combustible materials such as PVC and PEX fuel higher fire temperatures and toxic smoke that can turn serious fires into deadly ones for occupants and first responders. After fires, benzene from melted plastic pipe can poison drinking water for entire communities.

Overview: Fire Safety Concerns​

Research by fire-safety industry and testing laboratories have found that over the past several decades, many types of buildings have become more susceptible to fire damage. Plastic pipes, foam, fabrics, and insulation all represent significant sources of combustible, petroleum-based materials that increase fire risk. Key issues from ongoing work in the building and construction industry include:
  • Toxic Smoke: Testing shows that plastic pipes emit harmful gases such as carbon monoxide, hydrogen bromide, hydrogen chloride, hydrogen cyanide, nitrogen oxide, and sulphur dioxide, among others, when they burn. Even at low levels, such gases can overwhelm building occupants and the first responders who come to fight the fire.
  • Firestopping: Homes, schools, and workplaces with plastic pipes should be designed to mitigate increased risks of direct structural failures. Plastic is an intumescent material that can expand “up to 35 times” its initial volume in the event of a fire, according to plumbing and firestopping experts at HoldRite. Designing firestops to resist such expansion requires significant expertise, which is often not well understood by either mechanical contractors or even building inspectors. Failed firestops will allow fire, smoke, and gases to penetrate through walls and floors.
  • Chemical Releases: Burned and melting pipes can also threaten the safety of communities’ water infrastructure. The Camp Fire in Paradise, CA, damaged plastic water supply and distribution pipes, introducing benzene and methylene chloride into water supplies that subsequently became highly contaminated. Until the town’s piping infrastructure could be replaced, Paradise residents had no access to safe tap water.

Why would Congress add more dangers to firefighting?

A 2019 International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) statement highlighted that plastic piping is a dangerous material in construction that causes airborne and waterborne contamination. Additionally, the IAFF notes that gasses released from plastics can cause long-term health risks to workers exposed to these products… more

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