Chloride Sulfate Mass Ratio (CSMR) and Nitrate Acceleration of Galvanic Lead- Bearing Solder Corrosion

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Virginia Tech


Lead corrosion in premise plumbing systems from materials, such as lead pipes, soldered joints, and brass, can cause elevated lead in drinking water. This work examined mechanisms by which galvanic corrosion of lead solder:copper joints is accelerated by high chloride, low sulfate, and high nitrate in the water.

Galvanic corrosion studies conducted using simulated copper plumbing joints showed lowered pH and concentrated anions at the lead solder surface. A combination of low pH and high chloride can prevent passivation of the solder surface, indefinitely sustaining high corrosion rates and lead contamination of potable water supplies. The mass of lead leached to water correlated with predictions based on Faraday's law, although a portion of the oxidized lead remained attached to solder in a scale layer. When the level of sulfate in water increased relative to chloride, galvanic currents and associated lead contamination could be greatly reduced.

The impact of chloride-to-sulfate mass ratio (CSMR) on lead leaching from 50:50 lead:tin solder galvanically coupled to copper was examined at the bench scale.The CSMR can be affected by coagulant changeover, use of desalinated water, anion exchange, brine leaks, and other treatment changes. Consistent with prior experiences, increasing the CSMR in the range of 0.1 to 1.0 produced dramatic increases in lead leaching from this source. Above this range, while lead leaching was generally very high, there was little correlation between lead release and CSMR.

The impact of nitrate was tested at the bench scale using synthesized water. Results consistently showed that increasing nitrate in the range of 0 to 10 mg/L NO??N, could dramatically increase lead leaching from simulated soldered pipe joints. Although higher nitrate slightly increased the galvanic current, the main factor affecting lead release appears to be initiation of non-uniform corrosion, with small pieces of solder detaching into the water. Under some circumstances, the decay of chloramine after it leaves the treatment plant, and formation of nitrate via nitrification, can markedly increase corrosivity of distributed water to lead solder.

The bench scale experiments conducted in this work illuminated many issues related to accelerated lead corrosion of solder. However, future research is necessary to further elucidate the mechanisms behind nitrate-accelerated corrosion, as well as methods for inhibition of corrosion due to chloride and nitrate.



Sulfate, Chloride, Nitrate, Lead Solder, Galvanic Corrosion