August 31, 1918: Service Line Materials, Lead is Everywhere

0831 Service line materials 1August 31, 1918: Municipal Journal article. Selection of Material for Service Pipes. “Service connections generally give more trouble to the superintendent than any other part of the water works system. This trouble is of two kinds, one being the deterioration of the quality of the water, the other consisting of leaks and stoppages. To minimize these troubles, the selection and laying of service pipes and the appurtenances combined with them should receive the most careful consideration of the superintendent….

About a year ago a committee of the New England Water Works Association collected some statistics about service pipe, mostly from New England States. These showed that 22 cities had abandoned the use of uncoated iron or steel pipe, 11 of them adopting galvanized, 4 adopting lead, 3 lead-lined, and 4 cement-lined. Seventeen had changed from galvanized to other kinds, 7 of these to lead, 7 to lead-lined, 2 to cement-lined, and 1 to enameled. Six had abandoned lead pipe, 4 of them for galvanized and 2 for cement-lined. Eight had abandoned lead-lined pipe, 5 for galvanized, 2 for cement-lined and 1 for uncoated iron or steel. Twenty-seven had abandoned cement-lined, 16 for galvanized, 6 for lead and 5 for lead-lined. The changes from plain ungalvanized pipes were made almost entirely on account of rust. Changes from lead pipes were largely on account of the possibility of lead poisoning, although in some cases it was on account of expense or because the pipes did not have sufficient strength. Lead-lined pipe was abandoned on account of lead poisoning and trouble from bursting and because of the difficulty of making joints that will not corrode.

Statistics collected by Municipal Journal in 1915 showed that, of 421 cities reporting 136 used wrought pipe exclusively and 130 for a part of their services: 144 used lead pipe exclusively and 130 for a part of the services; 4 used lead-lined pipe exclusively and 10 for part of the services: 1 used cement-lined pipe exclusively and 21 for part of the services; 1 used brass exclusively and 1 for part of the services, and 2 used tin-lined in part. Of those using lead for part of the services, 11 used it under paved streets, most of them using wrought pipe elsewhere. Lead-lined pipe appeared to be used largely and cement-lined exclusively in New England. Massachusetts was the most catholic using every kind of pipe reported.”

Commentary: From this article and the one published yesterday (August 30), it is clear that water system managers and operators knew the dangers of lead pipe in the 19th and early 20th century. The fact that it was still widely used in some cities into the 1980s and 1990s is astonishing on many levels. Of course, Washington, DC remains the poster child for how not to deal with a lead service line problem. The previous sentence was written before the disaster in Flint, Michigan was discovered and publicized. Everyone in the U.S. should now be well educated on the dangers of lead service lines and exposure of children to lead in water.

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