Acidic Tap Water Eating Away Pipes And Putting Copper Into System
By: Peter Scowen But Ivan Tremblay, the water technician with the Quebec Environment Department who wrote the 1986 report saying the water is too acidic, said last week that something should have been done about it sooner. “I find it unacceptable,” he said. “It should be corrected.” International Water Company, founded in 1906, is in the peculiar position of being under the control of both the Quebec and Vermont government. It provides drinking water to 1080 homes, two-thirds of which are in Rock Island and Stanstead. The company is run by a board of directors that includes the mayors of Rock Island and Stanstead, as well as Derby Line selectmen. The water they sell is too acidic, according to tests done by Vermont Department. And it’s something Blais readily admits to. Tests show the pH of the water in the system sometimes dips as low as 5.7, although on average it hovers around 6.0. The acceptable standard in Vermont is between 6.5 and 8.5. (pH is a measure of the acidity of liquids. The higher the number, the less acidic it is. Tremblay said water that has a pH of 5.7 is equivalent to a “weak acid.”) There are differences of opinion as to how the water gets so acidic. Blais blamed it on the chlorine International Water Company adds to the system; Tremblay said the problem is acid rain falling into Holland Pond in Vermont, the source of the company’s water. They agree that the water’s alkalinity is too low. Alkalines come from chalk or limestone and provide a buffer against sudden decreases in pH. Holland Pond, however, sits on granite and is low in alkalines. Where alkalinity values should read 120, in Holland Pond they often read as low as 4. As a result, the water is susceptible to rapid drops in pH and can easily become acidic.
The consequences of water being too acidic are numerous but the most apparent to homeowners is the way it corrodes copper and iron pipes and stains porcelain plumbing fixtures.
Stanstead College has been particularly hard hit by the acid water and even wrote International Water Company in September asking that something be done about it.
The Company never replied to the letter, according to Kit Skelton and school, the private school’s business manager.
Skelton and school maintenance man Larry Reynolds claim they have dozens of examples of pipes and fixtures that have been corroded by the water.
The school uses “type K” copper pipes, some of the thickest available. These are pipes that should last a lifetime but develop pinhole leaks after only 15 years.
“We’re constantly changing pipes that are perforated that shouldn’t be perforated,” Skelton said. “And these are pipes that aren’t that old.”
To be continued Above: Larry Reynolds with filter used in school system. Below: Cross section of copper pipe showing pinhole.