New report cites corrosion as major threat to public health

A new report from NACE International has highlighted the pressing need for improved corrosion management standards within the water treatment sector, arguing that aging water infrastructure poses a significant threat to public health. The report, which surveyed over 1,300 corrosion experts, pointed out that current Corrosion Management Systems used in the U.S. are not adequately deployed in a number of communities around the country. This lack of comprehensive corrosion control threatens the integrity of water utilities and municipal systems, in some cases leading to water shortages and widespread contamination.

"$80 billion is spent annually on replacing or repairing corroded drinking water and sewer infrastructure."

In 2002, the Federal Highway Administration conducted a landmark study of the direct cost of corrosion within drinking water and sewer networks, finding that spending exceeds $80 billion annually for replacing or repairing compromised infrastructure. If left unresolved, corroded drinking water systems can lead to massive health problems, like those seen during the Flint, Michigan, pipeline crisis. Since the vast majority of these pipelines are approaching the end of their lifespan, experts predict that similar crises may become more common in coming years without immediate action.

"Like much of our nation's infrastructure, our drinking water pipelines and systems are nearing the end of their useful life," commented Bob Chalker, CEO of NACE International. "Ignoring this critical infrastructure until repairs are needed is far costlier, both economically and socially, than preventing corrosion from occurring in the first place. We all need water, we owe it to our communities to get it right from the start."

NACE's report echoes the case for proactive corrosion control standards,  advocating for the identification and resolution of the root causes of corrosion rather than the passive approach that many municipalities rely on. Legislators and public health officials have already begun brainstorming about how to curb the immediate threat of water treatment corrosion, but time may not be on their side.

Lead discovered in New Jersey drinking water
Utility officials have detected elevated levels of lead within the water systems of several New Jersey townships located in Bergen and Hudson counties, according to a recent report from SUEZ, the private water utility firm servicing the region, collected and tested 108 water samples from homes in the area – 16 of these samples had lead levels that exceeded the federal standard, which currently stands at 15 parts per billion.

Records supplied by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection showed that the 90th percentile of the water samples had lead levels of 18 parts per billion. All 16 homes with high lead exposure were served by SUEZ's water treatment plant in Haworth, which provides drinking water to around 800,000 residents. In total, the incident impacted 57 municipalities in Bergen and Hudson counties.

Investigators quickly discovered that the water leaving SUEZ's treatment plant showed no signs of lead contamination. Instead, the exposure resulted from the utility's corrosion control practices, which were implemented to prevent the treated water from eating away at any lead pipes or plumbing fixtures it may flow through during transport. All 108 homes surveyed by SUEZ have lead-based service lines, suggesting that the utility company's treatment standards did not adequately prevent lead from contaminating the water in transit.

The danger of outdated infrastructure
Many of the drinking water service lines around the country were installed before the serious health risks of lead exposure were fully understood. According to the Centers for Disease Control, most instances of lead in tap water come from the corrosion of old fixtures or from the solder used to weld pipes together.

Rather than outright replacing these outdated systems, municipalities have worked alongside utility companies to develop corrosion control measures in an effort to reduce the likelihood of widespread seepage. Despite these measures, lead exposure continues to be a common phenomenon that will likely escalate as the pipelines age past their operational lifespans.