07 May The hidden hazards in your home’s plumbing
Editor’s note: This is the second in a weeklong series of articles for National Drinking Water Week on the importance of preserving and conserving water.
VALPARAISO | The message of National Drinking Water Week is the need to respect, preserve and conserve our precious fresh water resources, but there’s another lesson homeowners need to learn.
Your plumbing is trying to kill you.
That might sound like paranoia, but many problems exist in household water if homeowners are not careful. The danger probably doesn’t come from the water delivered on demand from the water department or private water utility, which are required to test for even the most minuscule amounts of potentially hazardous chemicals.
The threat develops after the water enters your home plumbing. It could start with the pipes. Lead pipes long have been banned because of serious health hazards from ingesting traces of lead. Some older homes still might have lead pipes, but water heaters probably are another culprit.
George Brown, team leader with Valparaiso Water Treatment, said people should not use hot water from the tap for drinking or cooking unless it comes from a tankless water heater. Sediment the water inevitably collects from pipes in the home and elsewhere continues to cook away in the tank even if it is often drained.
People who use hot tap water to try to speed up the cooking process for vegetables or pasta or who use it to make tea or coffee run the risk of ingesting the residue. Brown said an iron or steel pipe coming out of the water heater that is connected to the water line with a copper fitting causes another chemical reaction because of the different metals. That can cause copper to show up in the water.
He said a fitting is available that can keep the metals separate and prevent the reaction, but still it is possible to get lead contamination from solder used to connect pipes or in valves. Expensive brass fixtures look nice in the bathroom, but brass is 20 percent lead and is no longer being used in such items.
The potential hazard from the water heater, however, could be small compared to problems created by water softeners.
Brown said softeners have the highest corrosive potential of plumbing. The first hazard is from salt, which increases the sodium content of the water as much as four times the normal level. Brown said people can compensate by not putting as much salt on their food.
The purpose of a water softener is to remove “hardness” from water, and remove naturally occurring elements such as magnesium and calcium. This makes water more corrosive because it tries to recapture those elements from the plumbing, including copper and other hazardous metals.
This can cause water heaters to fail faster. Brown said it’s possible to reduce the impact by installing a bypass on the softener to keep the hard water for drinking and cooking. Another option is a valve that mixes some hard water back into the softened water to reduce corrosion.
It pays to know your plumbing.