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Flint seeks '21st century approach' to water but rebuffs free plastic pipe

Zoom  Zoom Issue Date:2016-06-03   Browse:1346

How long will Flint, Mich., rebuff enough free water pipe to replace every lead service line (LSL) in the city just because it is made of plastic?

A growing segment of the pipe industry is wondering and hoping to be heard and maybe even accepted at this most opportune moment. In Flint’s time of crisis,

more eyes and ears than ever before are on the metal-related problems that sent nasty rusty, lead-tainted water into homes and businesses.

Granted, many pressing medical, financial, legal and political issues are on the front burner for the city of 99,000 that has been in a state of emergency for

months. Even so, the Plastics Pipe Institute and its members would like everyone to consider that when it comes to infrastructure issues, their plastic pipe

and fitting products never contaminate drinking water with rust, lead and copper.

Why won’t city and state officials at least set up a committee to study the case for using some of the millions of dollars’ worth of free polyethylene

service lines that Los Angeles-based JM Eagle CEO Walter Wang is ready to ship? PE is the No. 1 pipe material in Europe (and the only pipe material installed

in England) because it is durable, economical and flexible enough for trenchless installation.

Wouldn’t it be wise and prudent for Flint to look at the benefits of PE pipe? Nobody wants to pile onto the to-do list of Flint. However, these kinds of

questions should be addressed if the top goal for the $125 million put up by 10 charitable foundations earlier this month — in addition to millions of dollars

in other contributions from companies and individuals — is taken seriously.

The pledges have poured into the city. The donations will be funneled to programs for safe water, health needs, intervention for children dealing with the

effects of lead exposure, early education and economic revitalization. That’s a big boost of money and morale in the city where 41.6 percent of the residents

live below federal poverty lines.

When Flint Mayor Karen Weaver thanked the foundations in a news release on May 10, she said she knows their contributions will make a significant difference in

moving the city and its lead-plagued drinking water supply along the road to recovery. The first of six priorities listed in the release calls for continued

independent testing to ensure drinking water is safe as well as support for experts working on “a 21st century approach” to water management.

Plastics Pipe Institute Large diameter HDPE pipe at a project in Texas.
So why is Flint only allowing service lines made from copper — a material so ancient it dates back to 2500 BC and the Egyptian pyramids for pipe applications?

Maybe some experts could advise the city about the pros and cons of 21st century pipe materials and perhaps even be the conduit to opening the city’s

procurement process to service lines made from something other than costly copper.

Unlike Wang, the foundation leaders have made it clear that their donations will not directly address the lead-leaching pipes that were at the crux of the


“Some things, like fixing the water infrastructure are clearly government’s responsibility,” Ridgway White, president of the Charles Stewart Mott

Foundation, told The Bridge, an online news outlet.

The foundation has committed $50 million in the next year for Flint and up to $100 million total over the next five years.

“There is opportunity to show how philanthropy can complement government and fill a void. But we’re not going to replace pipes,” White added.

It’s different when you own North America’s largest plastic pipe manufacturing company. While some may see Wang’s offer as a marketing ploy, he does have a

philanthropic track record of getting clean water to dozens of communities. He donated at least 350 miles of plastic pipe to Africa to supply 125,000 people

with what he considers one of the most essential needs to overcome illness and poverty. One 70-mile leg of the project got water to 13,500 people in 52

villages. He also shipped pipe to Honduras, where it transported potable water from a mountain spring to 5,000 people. Other projects have gone to Thailand.

In Flint, there’s somewhere between 4,300 and 15,000 service lines of lead, according to various estimates, with cost projections exceeding $60 million,

according to September 2015 figures on the city’s website. What if there’s a less expensive way to get the job done?

Copper is more than double the cost of PE pipe and at the height of copper prices, it was 10 times as much for the 2-inch pipe, according to PPI members. In

addition, when PE pipe can be connected using trenchless techniques, that cuts up to 40 percent from installation costs, the group says. Isn’t that worth a


And, what about the Flint residents who may not want to be exposed to the health risks of traditional pipe materials regulated by the Lead and Copper Rule of

1991. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) adopted the rule to put corrosion-control requirements in place in an attempt to stop the metals from leaching

into potable water systems.

Lead is a neurotoxin that can cause serious damage to the brain, kidneys and nervous system, especially for young children and pregnant women. Copper can cause

stomach and intestinal problems as well as kidney and liver damage.

Flint’s drinking water was poisoned with lead for 18 months starting in April 2014. In a botched cost-saving move, the source of water was redirected from

Lake Huron to the Flint River without any corrosion inhibitor added before it was sent through the distribution system. The caustic river water ate away at the

protective film that had coated the lead service lines supplying customers. Without the barrier, lead-laden water flowed from the faucets of homes and


There’s no need, however, to be vulnerable to such man-made disasters stemming from metal pipes. How Flint proceeds to modernize its infrastructure could be a

watershed moment for the city, the plastic pipe industry and, really, home and businesses owners everywhere. The American Water Works Association projects it

will cost $1 trillion over the next 25 years to repair all the parts of the U.S. water distribution system reaching the end of their useful lives. Flint

reminds us that for both health and financial reasons, it’s time to study all the alternatives available.

DIN 5514 Elastomer/Rubber Physical Test

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