Researchers at Purdue University say they’ve developed a new plumbing alloy that can eliminate the use of lead in plumbing fixtures. The alloy is a manganese and copper blend that is stronger and easier to mold than current lead free plumbing alternatives.
One reason the new combination is so interesting is that both copper and manganese solidify at the same temperature. Typically, different metals harden at different temperatures, which can allow the resulting alloy to become porous, and interfere with strength and other properties. Since copper and manganese solidify at the same temperature, they behave more like a pure metal. Initial testing shows that the new alloy does not develop porous qualities like other alloys can.
The idea of using lead free alloys in plumbing is not new. Since the late-70’s, the plumbing industry has made a major effort to reduce or eliminate the use of lead -even in small amounts. Lead-free solder, lead free pipes and lead-free fixtures are standard today, however some lead can still leech into water systems.
Brass – a common plumbing material for fixtures and valves – can contain lead, which can leech into standing water. Old plumbing solder was typically a mixture of tin and lead. As plumbing joints age and deteriorate, lead from old solder can also enter the water supply.
Another exciting property of the new alloy is that it is relatively inexpensive to make. Copper and manganese are both reasonably available materials. In production, the new alloy is comparable (or perhaps a little less expensive) than current lead free alternatives. The Purdue team will now look to scale up its production in test plumbing applications to learn more about it.
Removing lead from your plumbing system is important to your health and the health of your family. Lead is toxic in any quantity, and there is no safe or acceptable level of lead in a water system. Even systems that don’t contain lead pipes can still acquire lead particles – mainly from older fixtures and old, lead-based solder joints.
While it’s hard to believe, some homes also still have a water line that’s made of lead. You can see whether you have a lead line by looking at the pipe that connects your water meter to the municipal water supply. Lead is a soft, dull silver-colored metal. If you have a dull grey or silver colored water line attached to your meter, take a small flat-head screwdriver and try to scratch the surface of the pipe. You could also press the flat blade of the screwdriver into the pipe. If the screwdriver can scratch the pipe or make an impression, your water line is probably made of lead.
If you touch the pipe, wash your hands afterwards. You can only absorb lead by ingestion or inhalation. While you cannot absorb lead through your skin, touching the pipe can deposit lead particles or lead dust on your hands, which you can then ingest accidentally.
Replacing your lead water line with a safer material can remove an immediate health hazard and give you peace of mind. If you would like more information about replacing a lead water line, or removing lead from your home’s plumbing system, please give us a call at Boston Standard Company at (617) 288-2911. We’ll be happy to inspect your home’s plumbing system and identify potential lead hazards.
Photo Credit: Richard King, via Flickr