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New study identifies lead exposure risk of water pipe replacement

January 22, 2016

New Rochelle, NY, Jan. 22, 2016 -- A new long-term simulation study confirms that partial replacement of lead pipes with copper, as could have caused serious problems in Flint, MI and Washington, DC, more than doubles the lead released into the water supply. A partial lead and copper pipe approach to service line replacement may increase the risk of lead exposure to harmful levels, as described in the study published in Environmental Engineering Science. The article is available to download for free on the Environmental Engineering Science website.

In "Long-Term Behavior of Simulated Partial Lead Service Line Replacements," Justin St. Clair, Simoni Triantafyllidou, Brandi Clark, and Marc Edwards of Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, and Clement Cartier of Claro, Inc., Montreal, Canada reported the results of a 4-year study designed to assess the impacts of three different water service line replacement configurations: using 100% lead throughout; the conventional strategy in use for partial replacement comprising 50% copper upstream of 50% lead pipe; and 50% lead pipe upstream of 50% copper.

Elevated lead from corrosion worsened over time for the 50% copper configurations, with 140% more lead release demonstrated at 14 months. At high flow rates, 100% of the samples collected from the conventional partial configurations exceeded health safety thresholds, compared to 0% risk for samples collected from 100% lead pipe.

"This research demonstrates conclusively that if pipe replacements are to be conducted in response to water lead contamination events such as those that occurred in Washington, DC in 2001-2004 or Flint, MI in 2014-2015, half measures can create a worse problem than doing nothing," says Marc Edwards, coauthor and international water quality expert. "Specifically, replacing only the publicly owned portion of the lead pipe with copper can sometimes create an acute health risk due to corrosion arising between the copper and lead. Utilities and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) should allow only full replacements or, if partial replacements cannot be avoided, require use of plastic pipes instead of copper."

"The expectation in the United States is that when we turn on the faucets in our homes, the water that pours out is safe to consume," says Domenico Grasso, PhD, Editor-in-Chief of Environmental Engineering Science and Provost, University of Delaware, Newark. "This critically important paper has uncovered an important health risk that is being involuntarily assumed by many Americans as a result of historical water line maintenance practices."
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About the Journal

Environmental Engineering Science, the official journal of The Association of Environmental Engineering and Science Professors, is an authoritative peer-reviewed journal published monthly online with Open Access options. Publishing state-of-the-art studies of innovative solutions to problems in air, water, and land contamination and waste disposal, the Journal features applications of environmental engineering and scientific discoveries, policy issues, environmental economics, and sustainable development including climate change, complex and adaptive systems, contaminant fate and transport, environmental risk assessment and management, green technologies, industrial ecology, environmental policy, and energy and the environment. Tables of content and a sample issue may be viewed on the Environmental Engineering Science website.

About the Publisher

Environmental Engineering Science is published by Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., a privately held, fully integrated media company known for establishing authoritative peer-reviewed journals in many promising areas of science and biomedical research, including ,Industrial Biotechnology, Sustainability: The Journal of Record, and Environmental Justice. Its biotechnology trade magazine, Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News (GEN), was the first in its field and is today the industry's most widely read publication worldwide. A complete list of the firm's 80 journals, newsmagazines, and books is available on the Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., publishers website.

About the Association

The Association of Environmental Engineering and Science Professors (AEESP) comprises faculty members in academic programs throughout the world who provide education in the sciences and technologies of environmental protection. The mission of AEESP is to assist its members in the development and dissemination of knowledge in environmental engineering and science. AEESP seeks to strengthen and advance the discipline of environmental science and engineering by providing leadership, promoting cooperation amongst academics and others within and outside the discipline, and serving as a liaison between its membership and other professional societies, governmental agencies, industry and nonprofit organizations.

Mary Ann Liebert, Inc./Genetic Engineering News

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