Copper pitting is the pits

Dear Editor:

We would like to see some feature article(s) on the growing problem of copper tube pitting due to aggressive water. This problem has reached crisis levels in various parts of the country and is too complex for the average plumbing or water purification professional to fully understand and address. As an industry, we need to try to understand causes behind this growing problem, educate the homeowner unwittingly “strapped” with this costly and recurring nightmare, and pressure local water suppliers (when it turns out to be a water treatment problem) to take steps to treat water above and beyond the Federal Safe Drinking Water Standards they typically hide behind. In our opinion, it’s unacceptable for the “safe” domestic drinking water that’s supplied by a municipality to cause a copper water distribution system to fail. We hope you feel the same.

Jim Ellison,
Senior Estimator
Can-Am Plumbing

PS: If your answer to this problem is to use plastic tube, we would like you to know that in the 50+ jurisdictions in which we do business on the West Coast, none will allow use of plastic domestic water supply tube within the building shell.

Editor’s note: There are a number of things you can do depending upon what the cause is, according to WC&P’s Technical Review Committee. One option you can do is add a polyphosphate feeder. There are other substances that will work, but this is the most common. What it does is, in a sense, sequester the ions, making it difficult for the copper to dissolve into water. But that’s not the only answer. Often, it’s a trial-and-error process to find the solution. Alternatives include if it’s caused by galvanic current, in which case you may have to change the piping, fittings and/or valving materials (i.e., dissimilar metals). An iron stem or steel throat in an all-brass valve may cause additional iron staining in a particular pH range. If it’s erosion, it may be necessary to enlarge the piping diameter to slow the flow down. For more clues, read the article “Solving Blue-Green Water” in this issue by Larry Henke on copper-related problems and their causes.

State of our drinking water

Dear Editor:

This month (October 1999) an amendment to the federal Safe Drinking Water Act went into effect. This amendment requires a list of all the contaminants in your water to appear with your water bill.

Quite frankly, the state of our drinking water is terrible. Just awful! USA Today recently reported that 90 percent of all violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act go unreported. Sixty years ago, one out of 60 people got cancer; today one out of three get cancer. Common sense suggests that the ingestion of synthetic chemicals plays a leading role in these increased cancer rates. The air we breathe, the food we eat and the water we drink all contain unacceptable levels of synthetic chemicals.

People can take personal responsibility for the quality of the water they drink. To begin with, go to: http://www.awwa.org/asp/utility.asp . This website offers home pages for water utilities in the United States. Many show you the quality of water in your city through Consumer Confidence Reports or other water quality data issued as mandated by the 1996 SDWA Reauthorization. To compare with current federal drinking water standards, you can also go to: http://www.epa.gov/safewater/mcl.html .

The quality of our water is going to get a lot of attention in the next couple years. More and more people are going to become aware of the levels of pesticides, herbicides, lead, chlorine, animal waste, sewage, bacteria and disease causing microbes in their water. This brings to mind the chlorine-resistant bacteria that affected 400,000 people in Milwaukee several years ago, killing 100 of them. Most affected by poor water quality are young children. Their bodies are just too small to handle all of these contaminants. Federal guidelines for determining acceptable levels of pollutants are calculated using a 175-pound man. Get real.

What can people do about this deplorable situation? The most effective way to ensure the quality of your water is to install a point-of-use water treatment system, I say. I advocate for POU filtration systems, but any system is better than no system.

Three things I suggest potential customers keep in mind when looking for a POU system are: 1) Effectiveness—this can be measured and tested; 2) Ease of use—if it’s not easy to use, the people who need it most won’t use it; 3) Economy—you can get the purest water possible, with today’s technology, for about 10 cents a gallon.

But I use bottled water, they reply. Besides costing up to a dollar or more a gallon and being a pain to carry around, bottled water in many cases—depending upon the treatment regimen—is no purer than tap water. Most people don’t realize that standards for bottled water are roughly the same as those for tap water (see http://www.msnbc.com/news/254638.asp?cp1=1). Often, bottled water is nothing more than tap water with the chlorine removed.

Well, what about a reverse osmosis system, they ask? RO is a demineralizing process. The trouble, some people feel, is it takes out good minerals like calcium, magnesium and potassium—minerals that your body needs. While water may be only a minor contributor to our total body needs with respect to these, this perspective revolves around the theory that what’s in your water is almost as important as what’s not in your water.

There may be some confusion with the flood of data becoming available about water quality, but the opportunity for the public to educate themselves on these issues related to the water delivered to their homes or offices can only bode well for our industry. Again, any filter is better than no filter—and a point-of-use system is the most effective. This is not a hit or miss proposition.

Dave Zalewski
Zeta Enterprises/New Vision International
Tempe, Ariz.

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