Plumbing, Pipes, and Plastics: Working Towards Safer Drinking Water with Andrew J. Whelton, Ph.D.

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Dr. Andy Whelton joins The Water Values Podcast and discusses how utilities use plastics for pipe repair, rehabilitation and replacement. Andy also dives into some new research with funding from a coalition of the US EPA, schools, utilities and others. Take a listen to understand how plastics are helping deliver drinking water to your home.

In this session, you’ll learn about:

  • The types of plastics used by utilities
  • The uses of plastics in pipe repair, rehabilitation and replacement
  • How plastics are used in residential plumbing
  • Andy’s new research project where he’s studying the impact of water efficiency on water quality
  • Why water efficient fixtures merit the study of water quality

Resources and links mentioned in or relevant to this session include:

New Feature!

This episode features the first Bluefield on Tap segment, where market research experts from Bluefield Research join the podcast for a brief segment on current issues and trends in the water marketplace. In TWV 095, Bluefield’s President, Reese Tisdale, joins us to discuss current trends in water infrastructure, including infrastructure as a service.


Sorry – no transcript this week. Let me know by emailing me if you miss the transcripts!

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6 thoughts on “Plumbing, Pipes, and Plastics: Working Towards Safer Drinking Water with Andrew J. Whelton, Ph.D.

  1. Dan Robles, PE

    Great topic - I encounter many issues of this type. Special consideration should be given to failure modes. Installers don’t understand polymers like they do metals. Sales reps don’t explain vulnerabilities, warranty exclusions, etc. Installers limit their liabilities and the client can be stuck in a lawsuit and condos can’t sell, it can get really bad for some communities. lawyers, insurance, disclosures, yikes. Seems so simple, right? But thinks can go very wrong and they do. Sometimes in really strange ways.

    1. Dave McGimpsey Post author

      Thanks Dan. Glad you enjoyed the podcast. Andy did a terrific job explaining all of these complex issues, especially where many people thought the issues were non-existent. Can’t wait to see the results of his research.
      Thanks for listening!

  2. Andrew Whelton

    Dan is spot on!
    Not all material failures are due to product manufacture. Some failures are due to improper handling during transport, storage, and installation. For example, we have been investigating an epoxy coated copper plumbing pipe failure and it seems the epoxy was not applied correctly. Chunks of it are sloughing off into the homeowner’s drinking water and blocking aerators. It failed after only 9 years of use and homeowners need to unexpectedly replumb their home ($$$). We have also found how you or your plumber cleans a PEX plastic pipe can affect what that new PEX pipe does to the drinking water for a short time period. Leaving PVC pipe out in the sun is a bad idea, because UV light degrades the material and causes hydrochloric acid (HCL) to be formed in the pipe which attacks the plastic. Heating up a cured in place pipe (CIPP) liner too hot during the repair of an existing water pipe can cause pinhole leaks to form in the plastic. The liner will not be water tight any more. There are many more examples.

    Unfortunately, engineers, contractors, and homeowners working on the front lines are the ones figuring out when not to do something because the problems were not explained to them when they considered the product for installation or the problem was not appropriately anticipated by the manufacturer. A classic example is the polybutylene grey pipe class-action lawsuit: Our Purdue research team is trying to anticipate these issues and equip the public and construction community with actionable knowledge.

    Thanks for listening and the comment! Dan is spot on.

  3. Martin

    This is wonderful segment for plumbing related issue. These research is useful for supplying quality drinking water using plastic pipes. We can solve our plumbing related issue with this advice.

    1. Dave McGimpsey Post author

      Thanks for your comment, Martin. Andrew’s work is fascinating, and the new hazards potentially arising from things we view positively (like water efficient fixtures) creates an interesting dynamic. It seems to me that this is just another example of the ubiquity of unintended consequences and how they flow from nearly every decision we make. Hopefully, the unintended consequences do not rise to dangerous levels or they can be easily mitigated.
      Thanks for listening!

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