Poor quality water can contain higher than allowable levels of lead and copper, affecting people's health. The naturally occurring corrosive effects of treated water can also break down copper piping inside a home, causing pinhole leaks that damage walls and cause mold formation. How can this happen in today's modern supply systems?
Unfortunately many of the harmful effects of treated water are now caused by the very treatment process itself. A major theory as to why lead and leaks are showing up involves a requirement initiated in 1991 that called for water districts to remove natural organic material from drinking water. This sounded like a good idea, since in theory it would enhance water quality. To comply with this mandate, however, many water districts changed the way they treated drinking water, which created chloramines that purify the water but which also have unintended side effects on water pipes in the average home.
After following this EPA mandate many districts discovered that NOMs were somehow related to the creation of a natural protective barrier coating on the inside of copper pipes. They learned that not only was the coating not able to form under the new treatment rules, but if it had already formed, it was now only taking a short period of time for the "new" quality water to strip away that natural barrier coating protection.
This resulted not only in corrosion of copper pipes, causing pinhole leaks, but in rising levels of lead contamination from old pipes and solder joints, which can cause serious health problems.
Corrosion is a constant in metal pipes and eventually will result in tiny pinhole leaks that soak the insides of walls. If caught early on, these only require repair of the leak and replacement of the wet plaster or wallboard. If not caught in time, mold can form and grow, becoming a serious health hazard to the occupants of the home.
An even more serious health problem is the leaching of metals, such as lead and copper, into the water that passes through a corroding pipe. Lead is not a natural component of drinking water. Lead contamination most often occurs in the water delivery system, and household plumbing is usually the culprit when it comes to high levels of metals in drinking water. Lead or copper pipes, fittings and other components are commonly found in many plumbing systems. Metallic alloys such as brass and bronze often contain lead, so brass faucets or plumbing fittings may also release lead into home water systems.
Older houses and apartments are more likely to have problems than new ones. Before 1988, lead piping and lead solder were widely used in household plumbing systems, but a ban on lead in drinking water components prohibited the use of lead solder or lead piping in water distribution systems. Any house built after that date should have a lead-free plumbing system. However, some plumbers have continued to use lead solder because it's easier to work with than newer formulations.
Homeowners should have their water quality tested at every tap in the house to check for metals and other dissolved pollutants resulting from contact with corroding pipes. People should also do a simple check for leaks by shutting off all faucets and other water outlets in the home, then checking to see if the water meter is still running. That can indicate a leak problem.
By Larry Gillanders of ACE DuraFlo, a developer of unique barrier coating technology used to repair and prevent water pipe problems.