New Insights into Lead and Copper Corrosion: Impacts of Galvanic Corrosion, Flow Pattern, Potential Reversal, and Natural Organic Matter
Arnold, Jr, Roger Brooke
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The EPA Lead and Copper Rule set Action Limits for lead and copper concentrations in potable water, but accelerated corrosion of lead in potable water systems due to a galvanic connection to copper remains a significant health risk to consumers. In addition to elevated lead release due to galvanic corrosion of lead-tin solder and leaded brass fixtures, partial lead service line replacements with copper pipe present long-term health concerns. Prior research has demonstrated that the effects of galvanic corrosion can be controlled by water chemistry, and the interplay between alkalinity, natural organic matter (NOM), and orthophosphate (added as corrosion inhibitor) may have a significant influence on corrosion of common lead plumbing materials. Results of bench-scale experiments demonstrate that in some waters galvanic corrosion can multiply lead release from lead pipe by up to 60 times, but other waters curtail the galvanic current and alleviate the effects of galvanic corrosion. Measurements of pH at the lead surface demonstrate that a corrosive micro-environment forms during stagnation in which the local pH drops to 3.0 or lower, demonstrating that the worst-case scenario for galvanic corrosion of lead occurs during long stagnation periods. In addition to water chemistry, flow pattern also has an impact on galvanic corrosion of lead. Conventional wisdom regarding lead release indicates that continuous flow results in the greatest mass of lead release, but reports of anomalously high lead concentrations after long periods of stagnation point to the contrary. In this experiment, continuous flow of chlorinated water through a Pb-Cu galvanic couple promoted Pb(IV) formation and resulted in potential reversal that caused lead pipe to become cathodic to copper and minimized lead release to water. In contrast, intermittent flow resulted in sustained galvanic attack, and a mass balance of Pb release indicated that a greater total mass of lead was released with intermittent flow. These results have important implications for assessing lead risk at the tap, especially considering long stagnation periods at facilities such as schools and increasing efforts for water conservation. Elevated copper release in potable water can cause aesthetic problems and mild health concerns and often occurs in new plumbing systems prior to the formation of a protective scale layer on the pipe surface. While solubility in new copper pipes tends to be controlled by an amorphous solid of high solubility, over time, the natural copper aging process results in the formation of a protective scale of much lower solubility, but the transition can be inhibited in waters with high levels of NOM. Experiments demonstrated that GAC treatment to remove NOM accelerates the aging process to a protective scale that provides a long-term reduction in copper release even after GAC treatment is terminated. Therefore, compared to pH adjustment and orthophosphate addition, which must be continued perpetually, GAC treatment may be a more holistically pleasing method of copper corrosion control. This approach could be useful in the commissioning of new buildings to facilitate rapid aging and avoid potential long-term copper corrosion problems.
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