Why cities should replace lead service lines with plastic pipes

Jeff Church, Plastic Pipe and Fittings Association

Water service lines are the pipes connecting the water main to a building that are often connected to the water meter. A surprising number of cities in the United States have water service lines made with lead pipes. Current federal law bans installing any new lead water pipes because of the significant health risk they pose to the communities they are in. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), low levels of exposure to lead for children can contribute to damage of the nervous system, learning disabilities, hearing impairment, poor behavior, anemia and more.

Federal initiatives are helping communities offset the cost of having lead lines replaced with a healthy alternative. Several cities are preparing to undergo a massive replacement project to rid the city of lead lines once and for all. It’s expensive. There are estimates a single replacement could average $12,500, and there could be 10 million lead lines in use. Much of that cost will likely be borne by the federal government.

While there’s no doubt that lead pipes need to be replaced, the question remains: What should we replace them with?

Plastic pipes are the safe replacement option

Plastic pipe materials offer a number of benefits for water service lines. Perhaps most important, they have a proven track record of safety and longevity.

Metal pipe options for lead service line replacement are prone to corrosion. When these pipes start to corrode, those chemicals from the pipe wall end up in the water.

Plastic pipes are resistant to the type of corrosion affecting metal pipe. Plastic pipes have been in use since the 1950s with excellent results.

Without corrosion or pinhole leaks in the pipe wall, plastic pipes give communities safe and clean drinking water.

Plastic pipes have a smaller environmental footprint  

Life cycle analysis (LCA) shows that plastic pipes for water service applications have a lower carbon footprint when compared to metal pipe alternatives. From raw material acquisition and in the manufacturing process to long after they’re installed, plastic pipes are much more environmentally friendly. 

Plastic pipes are easy and efficient to install  

Finally, choosing plastic pipes for lead line replacement can save time and budget. The process of replacing lead service lines with metal pipes often takes longer than it does with plastic pipes. Especially in urban re-piping projects, metal pipes require more rigid components to be cut, assembled, and/or soldered before they’re put in the ground. With plastic pipes, there’s no need for all those extra steps and installation costs.

Plastic pipes are lightweight, making it easier to transport and handle on the jobsite, and won’t be stolen for scrap value, like copper. Plastic pipes can also be joined without using open flames or hot work. The process of installing plastic water service pipes doesn’t require as much heavy machinery as metal.

Protect our city’s future

Replacing a community’s lead service lines is a critical step to helping protect the health of every individual who relies on the water system. The best value for the city to ensure long-term service, safety, and sustainability is a water system made with plastic pipes.

For more information, visit https://pros.ppfahome.org/ppfa-homeowner-landing-page/