Corrosion in New Construction:Elevated Copper, Effects of Orthophosphate Inhibitors, and Flux Initiated Microbial Growth

TR Number
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Virginia Tech

It is generally acknowledged that a variety of problems affecting aesthetics, health, and corrosivity of potable water can arise during installation of building plumbing systems. These include 'blue water', microbial infestation, and rapid loss of disinfectant residual, among other things. Frequently cited causes of the problems include metallic fines left in the plumbing lines from deburring, cutting and product fabrication; solder flux residuals (water soluble and petroleum based flux); and solvents for CPVC. Mechanistically, some materials such as flux contain high chloride, high ammonia and cause low pH, which can increase the corrosivity of water held in the lines. Indirect effects are also suspected to be important. For example, ammonia from flux and organic carbon from flux or PVC solvents can spur microbial growth, which in turn can reduce pH or otherwise increase corrosivity. Recent work has also demonstrated that problems with lead leaching to water from brass in modern plumbing can actually be worse in PVC/plastic than in copper systems, if certain types of microbes such as nitrifiers proliferate and drop pH. Some of the problems initiated by construction practices can persist indefinitely, causing higher levels of lead and copper in water, or longer term, contributing to failures of the plumbing system.

Blue water from high copper concentrations is a confounding problem that continues to arise in some locales of the United States. One public elementary school in Miami Dade County is experiencing blue water issues as manifested by blue ice cubes and sink staining. In addition to the aesthetic problems, copper levels are above the EPA's Copper Action Level of 1.3 ppm. Bottled water has been substituted for tap water consumption, which has created a financial burden. The pH of the school's water ranges from 7.15 - 7.5 and the school itself is located 1 ½ miles off the main distribution line resulting in a very low chlorine residual of between 0.06 mg/L Cl2 and 0.18 mg/L Cl2. On site water was shipped to Virginia Tech from Miami to be used in this study. Preliminary testing showed that an increase in the pH of the water would decrease copper leaching. Several pH's were tested which revealed that increasing the pH of the water to 8.5 would drop copper below 1.3 mg/L. When these recommendations were implemented at the school, the high alkalinity and calcium rich water caused calcite scales to form which clogged the chemical feed nozzles. Further bench scale testing indicated that adding 2 mg/L orthophosphate corrosion inhibitor would effectively decrease copper to a level that would comply with the EPA's Copper Action Limit.

Orthophosphate corrosion inhibitors are used by utilities to limit lead and copper corrosion from consumer's plumbing. An evaluation comparing the effects of both 100% orthophosphate inhibitor and orthophosphate/polyphosphate inhibitor blends was performed to study the effects they have on galvanic corrosion, metallic corrosion, microbial growth and the decay of chloramine disinfectant. On site water was sent to Virginia Tech from UNC for use in this bench scale study. The results from this study indicated that 100% orthophosphate inhibitor was the most effective corrosion inhibitor at decreasing metallic corrosion.

It has long been known that microbial activity can have significant effects on water quality. This study evaluated nitrifying and heterotrophic bacterial growth in water systems containing copper pipes, a common plumbing product, and flux which is used in soldering copper pipes together in new construction. There are several types of commercially available fluxes which are often used when soldering new pipes together. Flux ingredients vary and can include extremely high concentrations of ammonia, zinc, chloride, tin, copper and TOC. Flux containing high amounts of ammonia can be detrimental to water quality because it can accelerate the occurrence of nitrification, thus creating a cascading set of problems including, but not limited to, pH decrease and copper corrosion. The results from this case study indicated that flushing a pipe system can effectively decrease the high concentrations of flux present in a new construction system; however, high levels of ammonia from flux can create an environment in which nitrifiers may proliferate within the system.

Many water utilities in the United States are switching disinfection type from chlorine to chloramine due to the increased stability, longer residual time, and overall safety benefits of chloramine. Although chloramines have been found to be a desirable means for disinfection, chloramine decay is an issue of great concern because if the chloramine residual decays, it can leave a water system unprotected against microbial infestation. A preliminary examination of this issue was performed in a laboratory setting to evaluate the many components that effect the stability of chloramine decay, including alkalinity, phosphate, temperature, and various pipe materials. The results from this experiment revealed that temperature increase, pH increase, and aged tygon tubing all accelerated the rate of chloramine decay.

Corrosion, Chloramine Decay, Blue Water, Phosphate Corrosion Inhibitor