Can Your Water Pipes Cause Disease?

December 12th, 2013

Can your water pipes cause disease?

Written By: Jerry Alonzy

water pipe

Image via webhamster (Flickr)

I’m old enough to remember when it was inconceivable to drink water from a bottle. After all, we had water available from the tap! What sense would it make to pay up to 500 times more for water that came in a plastic bottle?

The fact is, today people who have perfectly safe water coming out of their faucet are paying top dollar for water bottled somewhere else! And though it would have been unthinkable “way back when”, most people who do so believe that bottled water is more healthy.

And they may be right! Indeed, most of us have no idea what we are putting into our bodies when we chug down a glass of cool tap water. There may be reason for concern, whether your home uses city water or a well system. And the reason may be in the pipes your water travels through!

All common pipe materials have tradeoffs…

There is no perfectly safe pipe material available today. Each material has its own risks, all of which can be eliminated with the proper combination of water filtration and/or water treatment.

1) Copper pipe is commonly used to supply drinking water in homes across the country and, under normal conditions, is a safe pipe material. However, certain water impurities can cause copper to be released from the pipes. Copper is not desirable in drinking water! According to the EPA, ingesting copper in drinking water can cause the same devastating effects as lead with health problems ranging from stomach distress to brain damage!

The culprit is acidic water. Acidic water is caused by the presence of one or more chemicals dissolved in the water (such as carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides). Acidic water can be found in both well and city water systems and can cause premature deterioration of copper piping.

As if this wasn’t bad enough, lead solder (used to connect the pipes) is also susceptible to deterioration. Lead solder was widely used prior to 1988, when the EPA banned the use of lead in all pipes used to supply drinking water. The problem, of course, is that this rule was not retroactive. If your home was built prior to 1988 you will most definitely have lead solder connecting your pipes.

Not only can the lead and copper leach into the water but the destructive process can lead to pipe thinning as well as leaking at the joints. Of course, this doesn’t happen overnight. Once the deterioration reaches a certain point, the repair costs can skyrocket to unimaginable levels as walls, floors and ceilings may have to be ripped out to replace the thinning pipes and repair dripping joints!

2) If your home uses one or more of the various plastic pipes available for use with potable ( drinking) water, there may be a low level release of various chemicals designed to prolong the life of the pipes. These chemicals are infused into the plastic to prevent deterioration from light, from chemical attack and also to allow the plastic to remain flexible so it can stand bending forces as well as expansion/contraction due to heating/cooling cycles.

Though there are some manufacturing standards regarding the allowable level of chemical release, these standards have evolved as the use of plastic pipes has become more common. In other words, older plastic piping may be more likely to release chemicals which you may want to consider removing with a proper filtration system.

3) Though city water supplies use chemical treatments in an attempt to keep your water free of biological hazards, they don’t filter the water entering your home. After leaving the treatment plant, the water must pass through a series of underground piping that may itself release substances into the water that may be of concern.

One such contaminant is asbestos; though there is no convincing evidence that ingested asbestos poses a health risk, the fact is that older asbestos-cement pipes, commonly installed by cities due to the low cost and long life, are still in use all across the country. These pipes can deteriorate when used with water that has chemicals that are corrosive to it such as chlorides, sulphates or other soluble gasses or compounds.

Considering the health risks of air-borne asbestos particles and the fact that particles in the water could become airborne when spraying water or showering with it, a water filter would be the only possible way to remove these particles from your potable water supply. Berkey Filters offers a shower filter that effectively and efficiently removes both chemicals and contaminants that can become airborne and pose a potential risk… especially important if you have chlorinated city water!

Knowledge is Key!

Now that I’ve gotten your attention, the very first action to take is NOT to buy a water treatment or filtration system. The first thing you must absolutely do is to have your water tested by a state-certified water testing laboratory. You can easily find one by searching your state’s website or just do a Google search for “(your state) water testing laboratory.”

Without this basic knowledge, you will never know whether the water treatment method you choose will be correct. Once you have the testing data in hand, you can begin shopping for the system that suits your home’s specific needs. For example, you may find that a simple whole-house sediment filter will be sufficient. Or maybe more drastic action may be needed!

Based on your budget and your individual needs, you may want to consider stand-alone filtration systems, such as one from Berkey. Generally speaking, it makes no sense to filter all the water in your home when (based on the aforementioned water testing) the only risk comes from drinking water, not from the water you use to bathe, wash the car or water the garden.

Being quite frugal myself, I would be the last person to suggest overbuying anything, let alone a water treatment system. Purchasing the right system for your family’s needs will not only make your home a healthier place but, in the long run, save you money. What’s not to like about that?


Author information:

Jerry Alonzy, a.k.a the Natural Handyman, has been an active handyman for over 30 years with experience in most areas of home repair and renovation. As a do-it-yourself author and web developer since 1995, he has been featured in USA Today, the Today Show and on radio shows, magazines, newspapers and websites, including his own at

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