Technological watch

Groups seek to banish plastics from infrastructure projects

The Plastics Pollution Coalition has launched a new campaign urging federal and local officials not to replace lead service lines with plastic pipe and to provide all households with options other than bottled water before, during and six months after lead lines are removed.

The Washington-based group says the goal of the Filtered Not Bottled campaign is to make sure the $15 billion approved by the federal government to replace lead service lines does not result in the use of more plastic products or create plastic pollution.

Some 6 million to 10 million lead service lines deliver drinking water from water mains under streets to their houses, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

As those lead pipes are removed, the coalition is calling on EPA and municipalities to follow two recommendations:

• Provide all households options for filtered water, such as water filters certified to NSF/ANSI standard 53, or government-funded reusable bottles, tanks or water buffalos.

• "Utilize non-toxic materials for the replacement pipes, not plastics."

Recycled copper should be used to replace lead service lines, according to the coalition, which is joined by 22 other organizations, including Greenpeace US and Black Millennials for Flint.

In September, the group sent a four-page letter to EPA Administrator Michael Regan urging the agency to distribute guidelines for safe water sources and pipe replacement materials that excludes plastic.

The Filtered Not Bottled campaign launched Oct. 25 and follows other coalition initiatives, such as Last Plastic Straw and Flip the Script on Plastics.

"When it comes to clean drinking water, we shouldn't have to pick our poison — lead vs. plastic. Filtered, not plastic bottled water, offers a safe solution that puts community health first. We must ensure communities impacted by lead pipes have access to clean, toxic-free drinking water — and that means prioritizing non-plastic solutions," Julia Cohen, co-founder and managing director of Plastic Pollution Coalition, said in a news release.

However, the two main trade groups representing plastic pipe producers say the coalition is putting out bad information about the safety and life cycle of their products, which have been in use for decades and meet standards set by NSF/ANSI, just like the water filters that the coalition recommends.

"Plastic pipes have been used in potable water systems for more than 60 years and no health issues have been reported. We have a tremendous track record," David Fink, president of the Irving, Texas-based Plastics Pipe Institute (PPI), said in a phone interview.

Plastic pipes also are cost effective, don't tuberculate — or allow small nodules to break off — allow biofilm buildup and have a positive life cycle story, Fink added.

"We're lower in greenhouse emissions and we're recyclable at the end of use of life. We win when it comes to being the greenest of piping materials," he said.

Fink also questions the coalition's push to replace lead service lines with recycled copper, which is expensive and take a lot of energy to melt and mold compared to plastic products.

Copper prices have risen about 21 percent this year, partly because demand is up from the solar, battery and electric vehicle markets relying on it as a conductor of electricity and heat.

"Plastics are readily available and cost effective for rehabilitation of lead service lines," Fink said. "Copper is probably three times more expensive and not readily available. The coalition isn't even really providing a solution, in my mind."

Bruce Hollands, executive director of the Uni-Bell PVC Pipe Association, also in Irving, Texas, said PVC isn't used for water service lines as much as high density polyethylene, cross linked polyethylene (PEX) and copper. But when PVC pipe is used, it's safe.

"PVC is one of the most researched and tested materials in the world used to carry potable water and over 60 years of use confirm its safety and effectiveness," Hollands said in an email.

He takes issue with the coalition website saying PVC pipes leach hormone-disrupting chemicals.

"PVC pipes used in drinking water systems do not release chemicals that wreak havoc on hormone systems," Hollands said.

The two spokesmen for plastic pipe producers also point out the coalition is pushing for water filters that meet NSF/ANSI standards but ignoring the fact that their products do, too.

"You're relying on this party to filter your drinking water but you're not going to trust them to say plastic piping materials are safe," Fink said. "That's frustrating."

Publication date: 31/10/2022

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Last update: 2022-01-31