PEX Plumbing Releases Contaminants, Causes Odor

Kelley KM, Stenson AC, Dey R, Whelton AJ. Release of drinking water contaminants and odor impacts caused by green building cross-linked polyethylene (PEX) plumbing systems. Water Research. 2014 Sep 10;67C:19-32. doi: 10.1016/j.watres.2014.08.051.

Green buildings are increasingly being plumbed with crosslinked polyethylene (PEX) potable water pipe. Tap water quality was investigated at a six month old plumbing system and chemical and odor quality impacts of six PEX pipe brands were examined. Eleven PEX related contaminants were found in the plumbing system; one regulated (toluene) and several unregulated: Antioxidant degradation products, resin solvents, initiator degradation products, or manufacturing aides. Water chemical and odor quality was monitored for new PEX-a, -b and -c pipes with (2 mg/L free chlorine) and without disinfectant over 30 days. Odor and total organic carbon (TOC) levels decreased for all pipes, but odor remained greater than the USA’s Environmental Protection Agency’s (USEPA) secondary maximum contaminant level. Odors were not attributed to known odorants ethyl-tert-butyl ether (ETBE) or methyl-tert-butyl ether (MTBE). Free chlorine caused odor levels for PEX-a1 pipe to increase from 26 to 75 threshold odor number (TON) on day 3 and affected the rate at which TOC changed for each brand over 30 days. As TOC decreased, the ultraviolet absorbance at 254 nm increased. Pipes consumed as much as 0.5 mg/L as Cl2 during each 3 day stagnation period. Sixteen organic chemicals were identified, including toluene, pyridine, methylene trichloroacetate and 2,4-di-tert-butylphenol. Some were also detected during the plumbing system field investigation. Six brands of PEX pipes sold in the USA and a PEX-a green building plumbing system impacted chemical and drinking water odor quality.

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