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.

Piping that connects buildings to water mains often passes belowground, under streets or through soil that may have contain environmental pollutants such as petroleum products, pesticides, industrial waste, or other chemicals. Research shows that many commonly used pipes can allow these substances to pass through the piping walls, a process called "permeation."

Overview: Permeation Concerns

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), permeation of substances through pipe “can be viewed as a three-step process. First, the solute partitions between the external bulk phase (e.g., pore water, soil) and the pipe wall exterior. Next, the solute diffuses through the pore structure of the pipe or fitting. Finally, upon penetration the solute partitions between the internal bulk phase (e.g., pipe water) and the pipe wall interior.” When this occurs, it will degrade the quality and safety of the water (or other contents passing through the pipe). The EPA says risks from permeable pipe are “limited to plastic, non-metallic materials,” because they are more porous than substances like copper, iron, and steel. In general, this is due to the lower density of the piping material. Buildings located near manufacturing facilities, gas stations, and agricultural locations should consider the ongoing risk from leaks or spills and specify piping materials appropriate to protect against any threats.

4 Ways Contaminants Penetrate a Building’s Water Supply​

beakers full of chemicals
In North America, the benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene (BTEX) hydrocarbon group represents a main source of groundwater contamination. Its ability to permeate many common piping materials makes it especially difficult to protect against, which can be concerning considering BTEX is an established carcinogen. The Environmental Protection Agency has regulated benzene in drinking water to 5 parts-per-billion because of its link to cancer.

Health Risks Associated with Piping Materials​

beater and text of what are your pipes made of?
Plastic piping is a cheap option for drinking water systems. But does value engineering justify taking a health risk? While there are many different types of plastic pipes used today, they are all unnatural and made from a complicated blend of chemicals.

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