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The long turbulent road to recovery from the lead crisis of 2014 has forced residents to depend on filtered and bottled water to save themselves from the dangers of lead poisoning. That ordeal might finally be coming to an end as Mayor Keren Weaver announced that members of the Copper Development Association Inc. helped the city acquire 200,000 feet of copper pipes at a discount of $1 million to replace the lead-tainted pipes of about 5000 homes.

lead replacement

Lead poisoning has haunted Flint for far too long and news of Lead replacement come as a much-needed relief for citizens who constantly live in the fear of things like premature births, learning difficulties, high blood pressure, developmental delays and joint pains. This deal is the latest to become a part of the Fast Start initiative, a program to remove lead-tainted iron service lines and LSLs, starting with the worst affected areas and houses that have kids and senior citizen.

The Copper Vs. Plastic Dilemma

Copper Pipe

Flint long debated the copper vs. plastic pipe dilemma after CEO Walter Wang of JM Eagle offered to provide free polyethylene pipes to replace the lead service lines of all homes and businesses in the city, but a 1 million discount seems to have swung things in copper’s favor. High density plastic pipes are still under consideration though as the city plans to replace about 20,000 service lines that connect the water mains to city homes at a cost of $106 million over the next 3 years.

It is believed that JM Eagle’s offer prompted a research on the choice of pipes which boosted copper’s bid as the lead replacement material. Longevity was one of the key considerations with copper pipes enjoying life spans of 60 – 80 years compared to the 25 – 30 years offered by PE. The analysis also gave value to copper’s salvage value and raised concerns such as the taste and smell of water and the release of volatile organic compounds.

The pipe alliance has however argued that high density plastic pipes have been used to deliver water in the western United States since 1959, even in places with droughts or high seismic activity, because of its ability to offer a strong and flexible solution that doesn’t leak.

There is also talk about a pilot experiment being conducted to use high density plastic pipes as a lead replacement for service lines in several city blocks. Local contractors are expected to be trained to install these lines using a trenchless method. With the pipe bursting technology, we can be in and out of there in two weeks,” says Peter Dyke, executive director, Alliance for PE Pipe.

Winds of Change?

According to the analysis conducted by Flint, “there appears to be movement from plastics back to copper” when it comes to service lines. However, engineered thermoplastic pipes are also touted as instruments of change. The city of Livonia was one of the early adopters of PE pipes and those have been around for roughly 5 decades. Moreover, PVC is already used in several parts of the water distribution system and has been installed in cities such as Mount Morris and Burton.

“Michigan is using a lot of PVC pipe now and we’re very excited about the $1 trillion in infrastructure spending that may happen in the next 10 years under the federal program,” says VesoSobot, Director of Corporate Affairs for Ontario-based piping systems manufacturer Ipex Inc. Even Hamilton, Ontario, Flint’s sister city, has begun using PVC pipes for its water supply delivery mechanism.

thermoplastic composite materials

While the city might be currently mooting copper, the key argument that seems to be keeping thermoplastic composite materials in consideration as lead replacement options for Flint is that they are far superior hydraulically and can work wonders in helping save electricity while pumping water while reducing the amount of water main breaks at the same time.

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