Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Brass devices in plumbing systems can create serious lead-in-water problems

Date:
November 12, 2010
Source:
Virginia Tech
Summary:
A new research study 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.

A new research study 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.
Credit: iStockphoto/Michael Luhrenberg

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.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Virginia Tech. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Carolyn Elfland, Paolo Scardina, and Marc Edwards. Lead-contaminated water from brass plumbing devices in new buildings. Journal of the American Water Works Association, Volume 102, Issue 11; November 2010

Cite This Page:

Virginia Tech. "Brass devices in plumbing systems can create serious lead-in-water problems." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 12 November 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/11/101111141849.htm>.
Virginia Tech. (2010, November 12). Brass devices in plumbing systems can create serious lead-in-water problems. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 21, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/11/101111141849.htm
Virginia Tech. "Brass devices in plumbing systems can create serious lead-in-water problems." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/11/101111141849.htm (accessed October 21, 2014).

Share This



More Matter & Energy News

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Thanks, Marty McFly! Hoverboards Could Be Coming In 2015

Thanks, Marty McFly! Hoverboards Could Be Coming In 2015

Newsy (Oct. 21, 2014) If you've ever watched "Back to the Future Part II" and wanted to get your hands on a hoverboard, well, you might soon be in luck. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Robots to Fly Planes Where Humans Can't

Robots to Fly Planes Where Humans Can't

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Oct. 21, 2014) Researchers in South Korea are developing a robotic pilot that could potentially replace humans in the cockpit. Unlike drones and autopilot programs which are configured for specific aircraft, the robots' humanoid design will allow it to fly any type of plane with no additional sensors. Ben Gruber reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Graphene Paint Offers Rust-Free Future

Graphene Paint Offers Rust-Free Future

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Oct. 21, 2014) British scientists have developed a prototype graphene paint that can make coatings which are resistant to liquids, gases, and chemicals. The team says the paint could have a variety of uses, from stopping ships rusting to keeping food fresher for longer. Jim Drury reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Portable Breathalyzer Gets You Home Safely

Portable Breathalyzer Gets You Home Safely

Buzz60 (Oct. 21, 2014) Breeze, a portable breathalyzer, gets you home safely by instantly showing your blood alcohol content, and with one tap, lets you call an Uber, a cab or a friend from your contact list to pick you up. Sean Dowling (@SeanDowlingTV) has the details. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Space & Time

Matter & Energy

Computers & Math

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins