Practical Impacts of Galvanic Corrosion in Water Service Lines and Premise Plumbing

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Virginia Tech

There is emerging concern about the potential for elevated lead in water after water utilities conduct EPA mandated (or voluntary) partial replacements of existing lead service lines. Connections between dissimilar metals results in the accelerated corrosion of the less noble metal via galvanic attack, increasing metal concentrations in water and posing potential public health risks. Many practical problems associated with stopping galvanic attack between copper:galvanized iron and copper:lead via use of dielectrics have also been raised.

Galvanic corrosion can be effectively stopped by isolating the dissimilar metals; however, completely eliminating electrical continuity may not always be practical or allowed by code. Instead, increasing separation distance between the two metals was hypothesized to considerably reduce galvanic corrosion. Galvanic corrosion and lead leaching were evaluated for lead:copper connections with varying separation distances while maintaining electrical continuity. Increased distance between lead and copper pipe dramatically reduced the galvanic current and the magnitude of lead release. Galvanized iron and copper connections were also investigated using various commercial fittings, and results verified that a controlling factor was separation distance between the two dissimilar metals.

When considering the long-term behavior of partially replaced lead service lines, detrimental effects from galvanic corrosion worsened with time. Even when water was sampled consistently at moderate flow rate, the condition representing traditional partial service line replacement was 40% worse than a full lead service line. At elevated flowrates, lead concentrations and variability increased for partly replaced lead pipe versus full lead pipe due to reservoirs of lead rust formed via galvanic corrosion. At low flowrates, these negative impacts were not observed. Finally, crevices formed by the use of commercial couplings increased lead release.

Overall, the results enhance practical understanding of galvanic corrosion impacts and use of dielectrics in water service lines and premise plumbing.

galvanic corrosion, lead service line, lead contamination, dielectric, distance effect