Drinking water from plastic pipes - is it harmful?

November 8, 2011, Norwegian Institute of Public Health

Pipe-in-pipe systems are now commonly used to distribute water in many homes. The inner pipe for drinking water is made of a plastic called cross-linked polyethylene (PEX). Are these pipes harmful to health and do they affect the taste and odour of drinking water?

Previous international studies have shown that plastic pipes can release substances that give an unwanted taste and to drinking water. It has also been suggested that some of these substances may be carcinogenic.

The aim of the study by the Norwegian Institute of Public Health was to investigate whether leakage products from these pipes are harmful to health and if they affect the taste and odour of drinking water. These leakage products consist of residues of used during production to give plastic pipes their desired properties, as well as any susbsequent breakdown products.

The study showed:

-- There are no associated with drinking water from PEX pipes
-- A few types of PEX-pipe may cause prolonged undesirable taste and odour if the water remains in pipes over time
-- Although the taste and odour usually dissipate with use, water from two of the PEX types still had an unpleasant smell and taste after a year
-- The level of that leaked from new PEX pipes was generally low
-- The level was further reduced with use
-- No correlation was found between production method and leaking products

About the study

Ten different types of PEX pipes available in the Norwegian market were tested for leaching products in a standardised . The water was in contact with the tubes for 72 hours.

Three different manufacturing methods produce pipes known as PEX-a, PEX-b or PEX-c. These methods use slightly different additives, but this study found no correlation between production method and leakage products.

2.4-di-tert-butyl-phenol and methyl-tert-butyl ether (MTBE) were two of the most commonly occurring substances detected in the water in the experiments.

For three types of new pipe, MTBE was detected in higher concentrations than the U.S. government's recommended limits for taste and odour of (USEPA), but the values were reduced to below this limit after the tubes had been in use for a while.

Explore further: Fading ability to taste iron raises health concerns for people over age 50

More information: Lund, V., Anderson-Glenna, M., Skjevrak, I. and Steffensen, IL (2011). Long-term study of migration of volatile organic compounds from cross-linked polyethylene (PEX) pipes and effects on drinking water quality. Journal of Water and Health 9(3):483-497.

Related Stories

Fading ability to taste iron raises health concerns for people over age 50

August 10, 2011
Andrea Dietrich, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech, and her colleagues, Susan Mirlohi, of Christiansburg, Va., a Ph.D. student in environmental engineering, and Susan Duncan, professor of food ...

Study: Medications in NYC water not a health risk

August 20, 2011
(AP) -- Tiny amounts of pharmaceuticals and personal care products detected in the drinking water of the nation's biggest city continue to pose no public health risks to residents, environmental officials said Friday.

Recommended for you

Americans are getting more sleep

January 19, 2018
Although more than one in three Americans still don't get enough sleep, a new analysis shows first signs of success in the fight for more shut eye. According to data from 181,335 respondents aged 15 and older who participated ...

Wine is good for you—to a point

January 18, 2018
The Mediterranean diet has become synonymous with healthy eating, but there's one thing in it that stands out: It's cool to drink wine.

Sleep better, lose weight?

January 17, 2018
(HealthDay)—Sleeplessness could cost you when it's time to stand on your bathroom scale, a new British study suggests.

Who uses phone apps to track sleep habits? Mostly the healthy and wealthy in US

January 16, 2018
The profile of most Americans who use popular mobile phone apps that track sleep habits is that they are relatively affluent, claim to eat well, and say they are in good health, even if some of them tend to smoke.

Improvements in mortality rates are slowed by rise in obesity in the United States

January 15, 2018
With countless medical advances and efforts to curb smoking, one might expect that life expectancy in the United States would improve. Yet according to recent studies, there's been a reduction in the rate of improvement in ...

Can muesli help against arthritis?

January 15, 2018
It is well known that healthy eating increases a general sense of wellbeing. Researchers at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) have now discovered that a fibre-rich diet can have a positive influence ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.