New Study Confirms Plastic Pipe Thermal Degradation as Source of Water Contamination in Fire Events

A new study by Purdue Professor Andrew Whelton and his research team in Environmental Science: Water Research & Technology tested eleven plastic drinking water pipes across eight brands to observe the extent of leaching of volatile organic compounds (VOC) and semi-volatile organic compounds (SVOC) into water. 

The study concludes that thermally damaged drinking water pipes leach toxic VOC and SVOC chemicals, with ten of the eleven materials emitting carcinogenic benzene into water. As exposure temperature increased, the team found that leaching accelerated from polyethylene materials.

This study has implications for both wildfire and structure fire recovery, confirming that water contamination in the 2018 Camp Fire and 2017 Tubbs Fire were caused by heated, melted and burned plastic water infrastructure.