Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Study shows brass devices in plumbing systems can create serious lead-in-water problems

12.11.2010
A new research study co-spearheaded by Virginia Tech researchers highlights problems with some brass products in plumbing systems that can leach high levels of lead into drinking water, even in brand new buildings – and suggests that such problems may often go undetected.

Lead is heavy metal that can harm the nervous system and brain development, and is especially dangerous for pregnant women, infants and children.

The study, published in the November 2010 issue of the Journal of the American Water Works Association, is the result of collaborative research between the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Virginia Tech.

The research was conducted by Carolyn Elfland, associate vice chancellor for campus services at Chapel Hill, along with Marc Edwards, the Charles Lunsford Professor of Civil Engineering, and Paolo Scardina, assistant professor of practice, both at the Virginia Tech Charles E. Via Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

The collaboration started in early 2007, when Chapel Hill discovered high lead in water in new buildings and asked Virginia Tech to assist in diagnosing and remedying the problem. The team developed a flushing protocol, which aims to ensure that before buildings are occupied, new faucets and water fountains met the Environmental Protection Agency's Lead and Copper Rule of less than 15 micrograms of lead per liter of water, or 15 parts per billion.

The researchers also determined that switching to plumbing devices that meet specifications required under California law, which is stricter than federal regulations, would not solve the problem.

In mid-2008, an unusually severe problem arose with two drinking fountains in a large new laboratory building, one of which had lead levels exceeding 300 parts per billion. Repeated attempts to flush the lead over several months and to use conventional remedial measures were unsuccessful.

The problem eventually was traced to a source in the building's piping system upstream of the water fountains. The cause was a particular type of ball valve and the problem disappeared when the valves were removed. The valves were later found to have as much as 18 percent lead by weight on the inner surfaces contacting the drinking water. Later testing proved the valves would leach lead at levels high above the EPA standard for months.

The valves were considered legal, because their average overall lead content was just under the 8 percent limit allowed by law, and were listed as having passed the lead leaching standards of National Sanitation Foundation International, the plumbing device industry's national standard-setting body. While there have been other verified cases of brass devices such as faucets and water fountains at the end of plumbing lines leaching high lead to water, this situation is the first time that a device upstream in a plumbing line has been proven to leach dangerous levels of lead to drinking water that reached the tap.

It verified earlier research by Edwards, which expressed concern about relatively lax standards testing used to certify brass devices for use in plumbing systems as safe. In response to that work, the National Sanitation Foundation implemented more rigorous criteria, which will come into effect in 2012. However, these tougher standards reflect the California standards, and the Chapel Hill-Virginia Tech research team's experience indicates that they probably are still too lax, the authors said.

Edwards, named a MacArthur Fellow in 2007, said the case highlighted concerns about high lead content in certain brass plumbing devices, and the need for a method of preventing the installation of defective products in new construction.

"The levels of lead detected at UNC exceeded those known to cause elevated blood lead in children, as established by the Centers for Disease Control, and even levels causing acute lead toxicity established by the Consumer Product Safety Commission," he said. "Thankfully, UNC's procedures caught the problem before anyone could be exposed to the high lead in water, but in most other cases the issue would go undetected. The fact that some defective products, listed as safe, could be installed in schools and day care centers and harm children is very troubling"

Chapel Hill's Elfland noted that high lead in water was first identified as a problem during the days of the Roman Empire, and that lead solder and lead pipes have been outlawed for decades.

"People have a right to expect that drinking water in brand new buildings will not be contaminated by lead, and building owners should not have to go the effort and expense UNC does to ensure that expectation is met," she said "In my opinion, this is a major regulatory failure."

The Chapel Hill-Virginia Tech team's research demonstrated that the higher cost of devices that are truly "lead free" would end up saving money. Chapel Hill's standard pre-occupancy flushing protocol adds $49 to $91, or between 24 percent to 45 percent, to the cost of every fixture, Elfland said. The total cost of finding and replacing the problematic valves in the plumbing system was $30,000, if the salaries of all the people who worked on the problem were included. The valves originally cost less than $20 each.

Earlier this fall, a U.S. Senate bill to lower the allowable amount of lead in brass plumbing devices from 8 percent to a weighted average of 0.25 percent was introduced by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif,), chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. "The bottom line is that there is no safe level of lead – a toxic heavy metal – in our drinking water," Boxer said in a news release at the bill's introduction.

Journal website: http://www.awwa.org/publications/JournalCurrent.cfm

UNC News Services contact: Patric Lane, (919) 962-8596, patric_lane@unc.edu

2005 National Science Foundation press release: http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=104334

Steven Mackay | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.vt.edu

Further reports about: Ferchau Engineering Foundation UNC environmental risk plumbing system

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht Rutgers-led innovation could spur faster, cheaper, nano-based manufacturing
14.02.2018 | Rutgers University

nachricht New study from the University of Halle: How climate change alters plant growth
12.01.2018 | Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Attoseconds break into atomic interior

A newly developed laser technology has enabled physicists in the Laboratory for Attosecond Physics (jointly run by LMU Munich and the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics) to generate attosecond bursts of high-energy photons of unprecedented intensity. This has made it possible to observe the interaction of multiple photons in a single such pulse with electrons in the inner orbital shell of an atom.

In order to observe the ultrafast electron motion in the inner shells of atoms with short light pulses, the pulses must not only be ultrashort, but very...

Im Focus: Good vibrations feel the force

A group of researchers led by Andrea Cavalleri at the Max Planck Institute for Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) in Hamburg has demonstrated a new method enabling precise measurements of the interatomic forces that hold crystalline solids together. The paper Probing the Interatomic Potential of Solids by Strong-Field Nonlinear Phononics, published online in Nature, explains how a terahertz-frequency laser pulse can drive very large deformations of the crystal.

By measuring the highly unusual atomic trajectories under extreme electromagnetic transients, the MPSD group could reconstruct how rigid the atomic bonds are...

Im Focus: Developing reliable quantum computers

International research team makes important step on the path to solving certification problems

Quantum computers may one day solve algorithmic problems which even the biggest supercomputers today can’t manage. But how do you test a quantum computer to...

Im Focus: In best circles: First integrated circuit from self-assembled polymer

For the first time, a team of researchers at the Max-Planck Institute (MPI) for Polymer Research in Mainz, Germany, has succeeded in making an integrated circuit (IC) from just a monolayer of a semiconducting polymer via a bottom-up, self-assembly approach.

In the self-assembly process, the semiconducting polymer arranges itself into an ordered monolayer in a transistor. The transistors are binary switches used...

Im Focus: Demonstration of a single molecule piezoelectric effect

Breakthrough provides a new concept of the design of molecular motors, sensors and electricity generators at nanoscale

Researchers from the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry of the CAS (IOCB Prague), Institute of Physics of the CAS (IP CAS) and Palacký University...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

2nd International Conference on High Temperature Shape Memory Alloys (HTSMAs)

15.02.2018 | Event News

Aachen DC Grid Summit 2018

13.02.2018 | Event News

How Global Climate Policy Can Learn from the Energy Transition

12.02.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Basque researchers turn light upside down

23.02.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Finnish research group discovers a new immune system regulator

23.02.2018 | Health and Medicine

Attoseconds break into atomic interior

23.02.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>