Impact of Polymeric Plumbing Materials on Drinking Water Quality and Aesthetics

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Virginia Tech

The use of polymer pipes is now very common in home plumbing and other parts of the drinking water distribution system. Many taste and odor complaints in drinking water are known to originate from contact of water with materials. The ability of polymer pipes used in home plumbing to affect drinking water quality and aesthetics was investigated using the Utility Quick Test (UQT). Analysis of water quality and aesthetics were conducted in the absence of disinfectant and the presence of either chlorine or chloramines. A Flavor Profile Analysis (FPA) panel was trained according to Standard Methods 2170B to evaluate the organoleptic characteristics of the samples. Laboratory analyses were performed to determine levels of total organic carbon (TOC), disinfectant residual, pH and to attempt to identify specific volatile organics.

The first part of this study investigated HDPE, cPVC and epoxy lined copper pipes using the UQT method. Both HDPE and epoxy-lined copper had significant effects on water quality and aesthetics during the approximately 10 day exposure of the UQT. HDPE and epoxy-lined copper leached significant amounts of TOC and consumed more disinfectant than controls, but in different amounts. cPVC was the most inert of the materials tested and had the least impact on water quality and did not contribute any significant odor. None of the pipes tested appeared to contribute trihalomethanes to drinking water, but further analysis revealed that the compounds may actually be generated and subsequently sorbed into pipe walls. These data show the effects of newly installed polymeric pipe materials and their potential to impact water quality in differing capacities.

The second part of this study compared the results of the UQT on HDPE, epoxy lined copper, cPVC, PEX-a and PEX-b with the goal of comparing and contrasting how five different polymeric plumbing materials can impact drinking water quality. Results demonstrated the short-term ability of all pipe materials except cPVC to impact water quality and aesthetics. This data could potentially be useful in generating selection criteria for homeowners and plumbing professionals regarding the impact of newly installed plumbing materials.

plumbing materials, drinking water, Disinfectants, Taste-and-odor, TOC