America’s Aging Water Pipes: Is Your Tap Water at Risk?

Updated May 29th, 2024

If you’re among the millions of Americans whose water comes through a public line, your drinking water might be at risk. Across the country, lead pipes are still carrying water into homes and businesses, more than three decades after they were banned. These decades-old pipes are installed underground, out of sight, and usually out of mind. But they are deteriorating at an alarming rate and may be leaching poisonous contaminants into your water supply.

A 2012 report from the American Water Works Association concluded that more than one million miles of these pipes need repair or replacement. And by some estimates, this could cost the U.S. more than $1 trillion. Without this investment, we can expect more frequent water main breaks, increased expenditure for emergency repairs, and other water service disruptions. Heck, we could even experience more devastating water contamination outbreaks like the water crisis in Flint, Michigan.

At Springwell, we believe that every family deserves the safest and cleanest drinking water possible, no matter where they reside. That’s why in this article, we’ll be taking a closer look at the crumbling water infrastructure in America and how you might be affected. Following that, we’ll reveal a highly-effective method you can use to protect yourself and your family against the potentially harmful contaminants that may be lurking in your drinking water.

The Current State of the Water Infrastructure in America

Every four years, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) issues an Infrastructure Report Card, modeled after the grading system we have in our schools. According to the 2016 report card, America was awarded a disgraceful ‘D+’ rating for its overall infrastructure. But why such a poor grade? Is America’s infrastructure really that bad?

The study, which examines all facets of the country’s infrastructure, found that our drinking water infrastructure is one of our biggest problems. Perhaps that’s because the average age of America’s 1.6 million miles of water and sewer pipes is about 45 years, and cast-iron pipes in at least 600 towns and counties are more than a century old. It might also have to do with the pipe materials, their lifespan, corrosion of pipes, poor infrastructure design, lack of oversight, insubstantial funding, etc.

But all thing’s considered, getting a D+ not only means the water infrastructure requires immediate repair or replacement. We may be experiencing things are stifling our quality of life as a result. These may include:

  • annoying service disruptions that sometimes occur in the middle of our showers or while ‘cheffing’ it up in the kitchen
  • being stuck in traffic for hours because of water main breaks, and
  • contamination issues that may jeopardize our health

Our pockets are also feeling the pinch as our substandard infrastructure costs each American family $3,400 a year in disposable income.

What’s causing America’s pipes to corrode?

America’s underground water infrastructure was installed in three main time phases – in the 1800s, 1900-1945, and post 1945. Unfortunately, factors ranging from aging and corrosion to pipe materials and poor installation, are causing pipes constructed in each era to fail nearly at the same time.

The oldest cast-iron pipes date back to the late 1800s. They usually have an average useful lifespan of 120 years. But because manufacturing techniques and materials change over time, the lifespan of these cast-iron pipes fell to about 100 years. Of course, the techniques and materials continued to evolve and further reduced the pipes’ lifespan.

But the truth is, pipes, in general, do a lot of work. In the case of America’s water infrastructure, pushing so much water across the nation requires a lot of pressure, force, and energy, which often put a lot of strain on the inner walls of the pipes. Over time, the violent force of the fast-moving water grinds away at the pipes and weakens them.

Pipes used in water distribution are usually made from metals (e.g., steel, galvanized steel, copper, ductile iron, aluminum, etc.). This is because metals are sturdy and can last a long time. However, metal pipes are susceptible to various factors that may wear them down.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), pipes can erode based on their properties, the environmental conditions, the surrounding soil, and stray electric current. Other factors influencing corrosion of pipes include the water’s chemistry and characteristics (pH, alkalinity, and biology), salts and chemicals dissolved in the water, and the physical properties of the water (temperature, gases, and solid particles).

Water treatment strategies also play a role in corrosion. More than 40 different chemical additives can be used to treat drinking water, some of which are very acidic. Acidic chemical additives include ferric chloride and aluminum sulfate. These chemicals are added to water to remove turbidity and other particulate matter. Various chlorine disinfectants also act as acids and can reduce pH, alkalinity, and buffer intensity. These acidic water treatment additives can interfere with corrosion protection. Corrosion inhibitors like fluoride are often used to address the influence of acidic water treatment. Still, you must remove them from your drinking water before drinking it.

Does pipe corrosion affect water quality? And if so, how?

When pipes corrode, their walls become compromised. Depending on the pipes’ material, harmful contaminants, like heavy metals and other minerals, dislodge from the walls. The water passing through the pipes then carry these small particles into your home and possibly into your drinking glass. This is a greater issue for older houses typically built before 1981, especially if the plumbing system has not been replaced. Pipes installed before that time could have been made with materials proven to be harmful when they are ingested.

Pipe corrosion and leaching are usually detected through visual, taste, and odor. Corroded iron pipes may cause your water to develop a nasty red or reddish-brown rust color. It may also taste metallic and sometimes even have small particles floating in it. Similarly, corroded copper pipes may cause your water to look red, brown, or orange. However, sulfide corrosion of both copper and iron lines can make your water look black. Byproducts from microbial activity may cause foul taste and odors.

If you see any of these signs in your water, don’t drink it. Drinking unfiltered water that passed through corroded pipes can be detrimental to your health. The effects are even more damaging for young children and pregnant women.

What are some common ways people are affected by corroded water pipes?

girl holding nose because of stinky water

Corroded pipes can be problematic for homeowners when their drinking water picks up, dissolves, and brings metal contaminants into the household. This corrosive water can then cause nuisance problems, including health-related issues. In extreme cases, it can damage your metal plumbing system.

Here are several ways aging pipes can impact your well-being:

1. Heavy metal contamination

The water coming to your home through aging pipes may leach dissolved lead, iron, copper, cadmium, and other toxic heavy metals into your drinking water. Some of these metals can leave different color stains around sinks and bathroom fixtures and may give the water a metallic taste.

Excess copper in the body can cause stomach and intestinal distress, such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramps, etc. People with Wilson’s Disease are more sensitive to the effects of copper. Lead, a more toxic metal, has been linked to health effects in both children and adults. What’s so dangerous about lead is that it accumulates in the body until it reaches toxic levels. It can be absorbed through the digestive tract and lungs and is usually carried by the blood throughout the body. The severity of the effects of lead poisoning depends on the concentration of the metal in the body.

When lead is ingested, it can cause serious damage to the brain, kidneys, nervous system, and red blood cells. Lead poisoning can severely affect a child’s mental and physical development to the point that the effects are irreversible. It can also contribute to lower IQ levels, shortened attention spans, and increased behavior problems.

2. The threat of viruses and bacteria

Communities across America suffer 240,000 water main breaks per year. These breaks waste trillions of gallons of water every year and may induce contaminants to enter our drinking water system. Water main breaks and leaks of sewer pipes can leach fecal matter into aquifers and rivers. Worse, aging treatment plants may fail to remove bacteria, parasites, and endocrine-disrupting compounds. So, don’t be surprised if your drinking water smells like rotten eggs or sewage. SpringWell offers their UV water purification system to ensure the removal of bacteria and viruses through ultraviolet light.

3. Clogged pipes, lower water pressure, the whole works

Water leaching heavy metals into your plumbing system may clog pipes, which may drastically decrease your water pressure. That means fewer fun showers, longer waiting times to fill up water-using appliances like dishwashers and washing machines. Even your water heater may also feel the destructive effects.

4. Higher water bills

As we mentioned earlier, America needs more than $1 trillion to revive its failing water infrastructure and maintain current levels of water service for the growing population over the next 25 years. In the years ahead, all Americans who pay for water service will likely have to absorb the cost of this investment, primarily through higher water bills. We’ve already seen significant increases in our water bills, mainly because of the costs of repairing the frequent water main breaks.

So, what can you do if you’re affected?

Since most heavy metals like lead and copper typically accumulate in drinking water, they sit in the pipes and plumbing components. A very simple and inexpensive solution is to allow the water to run at least one minute before consuming it. Flushing the system before use allows freshwater to replace stagnant water that had much contact with the pipes and plumbing components. While this method may be somewhat effective for some heavy metals, it won’t protect you against other contaminants, such as bacteria, viruses, etc.

If flushing the system does not work, your best line of defense against an aging water system and the possibility of unexpected contaminants potentially invading your water supply is to install a quality water filtration system. We know that America’s pipes are aging and that the issues are sometimes widespread, but having a barrier that blocks out contaminants is a practical way to protect yourself and your family from contaminants that could enter your drinking water through these pipes. Water filtration systems are not new, and many governmental agencies have recently come to suggesting that people use one.

whole house water filter system
SpringWell’s Whole House Water Filter + Sediment Filter

Usually, the two best types of water filtration systems to tackle these contaminants are a whole-house water filtration system and a reverse osmosis system. Springwell’s CF1 whole-house water filter system is a point-of-entry system that treats all the water entering your home. The system eliminates 99.9% of copper, lead, cadmium, volatile organic compounds, pesticides, sulfur, radionuclides, and scores of other water contaminants. When equipped with the UV (ultraviolet light) add-on, the CF1 targets and kills viruses, bacteria, parasites, and other dangerous microorganisms. What’s also remarkable about the system is that it only uses high-quality materials and technologies to filter water. Its 4-stage filtration process uses Springwell’s advanced ActivFlo technology to allow the most contact between the filtration media and the water. A longer contact time means more throughout filtration, thus removing more contaminants than many other systems.

If you’re looking for a smaller, more compact system that filters water at specific points in your home, then look no further than the Springwell SWRO-Nickel and the SWRO-Bronze reverse osmosis water filtration systems. Both systems are the perfect solutions for filtering heavy metals such as lead, copper, iron, aluminum, and other contaminants, including fluoride, arsenic, chlorine, herbicides, pesticides, and many others. The SWRO systems fits neatly under almost every kitchen sink and provides 75 gallons of clean, filtered water per day.

Plus, when you purchase any of our water filtration systems, you receive:

  • A lifetime warranty on all parts
  • A six-month money-back guarantee
  • Free and fast shipping
  • Factory-direct savings of up to 50 percent, and
  • The peace of mind that your brand-new system will combat your water contaminants problems once and for all

Final Thoughts

America’s water infrastructure is in a depressed state. The aging pipes are becoming a significant threat to public health and will only worsen if the authorities don’t act swiftly. Therefore, you must put measures in place to protect your water supply from contaminants due to these failing pipes. An excellent place to start is to install one of Springwell’s high-quality and affordable water filtration systems. Contact us now to learn more about our unique filtration systems and other offerings.