Plastic Drinking Water Pipes Exposed to High Heat can Leak Hazardous Chemicals

In August, a massive wildfire tore through the San Lorenzo Valley north of Santa Cruz, Calif., destroying almost 1,500 structures and exposing many others to extreme heat. Before the fire was even out, lab tests revealed benzene levels as high as 9.1 parts per billion in residential water samples — nine times higher than the state’s maximum safety level…

Scientists suspected that, among other possibilities, plastic drinking water pipes exposed to extreme heat released the chemicals

Now, lab experiments show that’s possible.  

Andrew Whelton, an environmental engineer at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., and colleagues subjected commonly available pipes to temperatures from 200° Celsius to 400° C.

When the researchers then submerged the pipes in water and cooled them, varying amounts of benzene, and VOCs — more than 100 chemicals in some tests — leached from 10 of the 11 types of pipe into the water, the team reports December 14 in Environmental Science: Water Research & Technology.

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