Lead and Copper Corrosion Control in New Construction: Shock Chlorination, Flushing to Remove Debris & In-line Device Product Testing

TR Number
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Virginia Tech

Several aesthetic, health, and plumbing quality issues can arise during new construction or renovation of premise plumbing. There has been little research done on many of these concerns and therefore few guidelines or regulations are in place to protect the health of the consumer or the integrity of the plumbing infrastructure. This work examines common construction practices including: 1) effect of residual construction debris, 2) shock chlorination of new plumbing lines, and 3) lead leaching propensity of new brass ball valves.

During installation of plumbing systems, residual chemicals and debris including copper brass particles and flux, can be left in plumbing lines following construction and installation. This debris is considered undesirable from health, aesthetic, and corrosion perspectives. Soldering flux is of particular concern due to its corrosive nature. Experiments were conducted to determine the effects of residual solder flux, PVC glue, and metallic debris and to quantify flushing velocities and durations to effectively remove them from a new plumbing system. A flushing velocity of 3 fps for 30 minutes is needed to remove water soluble flux, while petroleum based flux still persists after extensive flushing at 7 fps.

Currently a practice known as shock chlorination, whereby super chlorinated water is used for disinfection, is used in water mains after installation or repair as specified in the ANSI/AWWA C651 Standard. This practice is now starting to be required by some building codes in premise plumbing for new construction. Water mains are typically made of concrete where as premise plumbing using copper or PVC piping. Copper pipe is susceptible to attack by high chlorine, and this reaction will also remove the chlorine residual. There is concern about potential damage to copper from free chlorine and that in some systems targeted residuals of chlorine might not be obtained. Experiments did not detect serious damage to copper pipe, but in some waters it was not possible to meet targeted residual levels of chlorine. The addition of orthophosphate corrosion inhibitor or adjustment of pH can sometimes reduce the chlorine decay rate.

Extremely high and persistent lead leaching in a brand new building at the University of North Carolina (UNC) traced to leaded bronze ball valves, prompted an extensive forensic evaluation how existing standards (National Sanitation Foundation Section 8) could allow for installation of products that could create a human health hazard due to high lead. Diffusion of lead from within the device to water in the pipe, high velocity, microbial activity and other factors caused more leaching in practice than would be expected based on NSF testing and normalization factors applied to certify a valve as safe. Moreover, use of flux during soldering of joints, increased lead leaching by orders of magnitude relative to results of NSF testing without flux.

ANSI/NSF 61 Section 8, Flux, Corrosion, Shock Chlorination