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Old pvc pipes leaking

Posted on behalf of Charlie Cray <ccray@dialb.greenpeace.org>

Plastics News April 20, 1998 SECTION: News; Pg. 4 HEADLINE: INDUSTRY
PLASTICS NEWS STAFF BODY: With increasing reports of old PVC pipes
leaching toxic vinyl chloride into a number of rural drinking-water
systems, trade groups are working to plug leaks in vinyl's environmental

   Vinyl chloride monomer has been traced to PVC pipes installed
in two rural Kansas water systems during the late 1960s and early 
1970s. And officials in other Midwestern states are poised to begin 
testing for the cancer-causing substance in similar systems beginning 
this summer.                                     
  Regulators on April 14 reported finding VCM in a water system 
serving 480 customers in rural Russell County, Kansas, and 
surrounding areas.   The findings in Russell mark the second time the 
chemical has been found in a Kansas water system.
   Tests first linked vinyl chloride to pipes in the Doniphan
County Rural Water District No. 5 near Troy, Kansas, in 1992,
according to Dave Waldo, chief of the Public Water Division of
the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. Traces of VCM
first turned up in a neighboring water system in 1989, Waldo
said in an April 17 telephone interview. A series of tests
isolated the pipes in RWD No. 5  as the source.
   Industry groups first offered to help detect and reduce VCM
in 1994, but there was little support for such an effort by
federal regulators -- or local customers, Waldo said.
   In 1997,  Greenpeace  mentioned the Kansas water situation in
its broader campaign against chlorine chemistry. A Kansas City
newspaper then picked up on the story, spurring wider action,
Waldo said.
     Since then, regulators and trade groups have been working on 
ways to fix the  systems where VCM has been detected and to sniff out 
other systems where unacceptable levels of the chemical can be found 
in drinking water.
   The problem can be traced to the way PVC resins were made
before regulators tagged VCM as a known carcinogen in 1975, said
Tim Patterson, director of environmental solutions for PVC maker
Geon Inc. of Avon Lake, Ohio, and point man for the Vinyl
Institute on this issue.
   Before 1975, the method PVC makers used to recover
unpolymerized VCM from their resins ''wasn't as well-
developed,'' Patterson said April 16. Various batches of PVC
resin contained varying amounts of unpolymerized VCM.
   Patterson said the industry picked 1977 as a conservative
cutoff year for VCM testing just to make sure all later pipes
would not have a VCM risk.
   When the rural water systems installed pipes made from the
pre-1977 resin, there was no hint of possible danger, said
Robert Morby of the Environmental Protection Agency. Morby heads
the Drinking Water/Ground Water Management Branch of EPA's
Region 7 in Kansas City.

''Nobody ever envisioned vinyl chloride would ever be released from
vinyl pipe,'' Morby
   A special set of circumstances have to occur before VCM can
be detected in pipes using the old-style resin.
   ''Three things have to happen,'' said David Eckstein, deputy
executive director of the Uni-Bell PVC Pipe Association. ''The
pipe not only has to be made prior to 1977, it also has to be
high in vinyl chloride,'' he said from his Dallas office.
Eckstein added that not all resin made before 1977 was high in
unpolymerized  vinyl chloride.
   ''The water also has to have high contact with the pipe
wall,'' he said.
   That condition would occur most often in low-use pipe near
the end of a system.
   ''High temperatures also are required at the time of
testing,'' Eckstein said.

     If any of those conditions are not present, the same pipe will 
test clean of  VCM, he said.  Now that VCM has been detected in the 
old systems, industry groups are taking a leading role in abating the 
risk to water customers.
   The Vinyl Institute already is shipping bottled water to 25
of 28 affected customers in RWD No. 5, Patterson said. The group
has a draft agreement to provide replacement pipe, a carbon
absorption system, or an automated flushing system to the
   The problem may not end in Kansas, however. Systems in Iowa
and Nebraska are  scheduled for VCM tests this summer when
levels are likely to be at their highest. EPA regional offices
in Texas and California also have been notified about the
potential risk. Those offices cover eight states.
   VI has offered to pay for the testing of at-risk systems. 
''They've been very open and willing to provide assistance,'' Waldo 
said of industry group involvement.     

    Vinyl chloride ranks fourth on the list of most-hazardous 
chemicals by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. 
The gas even has its own disease named after it -- vinyl chloride 
disease. Regulators say lengthy exposure to vinyl chloride gas can 
cause a rare form of liver cancer as well as  numerous other 
ailments.   VI, based in Morristown, N.J., is a unit of the 
Washington-based Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. Uni-Bell of 
Dallas is a VI affiliate.