Domestic drinking water pipes which are made of plastic can become contaminated when oil, fuel or other hydrocarbons come into contact with them in the ground. If you notice a fuel or petrol type taste or odour to your drinking water, contact your water company immediately as these can be dangerous to your health.
Where could the contamination come from
There are numerous sources of hydrocarbons around a domestic property. Some houses use oil for heating and have storage tanks. If you notice the level in the tank drops more than you would expect it to, based on your usage, this could indicate a leak. Containers such as jerry cans or paint pots can be knocked over or be spilt through careless use. A stationary vehicle for a long period might have an oil or petrol leak which could go unnoticed until it is moved. Renovation and DIY works could involve a wide range of solvents or hydrocarbons that could be spilt accidentally or disposed of incorrectly.
How do I know when the problem started?
It may take a long time for any of contamination to reach the water pipe which means the problem and its source may not be immediately obvious. There is also the chance that the contamination could be coming from further upstream via a long supply pipe, or even from the water main along the road.
What should I do if I suspect or know of a leak or spill of oil or fuel?
If you become aware of a fuel or other chemical spill or leak on your property or suspect that one may have occurred in the past, you should notify the environmental health team at your local council. The ground where the spill has occurred will likely be dug up and replaced with fresh soil. The sooner this is done the less chance the spill will have to spread further. Where a pipe has been contaminated it must be replaced as flushing will not resolve the problem. If the spill is at risk of contaminating a stream or other watercourse, then the Environment Agency emergency hotline should be contacted.
What can be done to prevent contamination?
Some specialist plastic pipes contain a barrier material, such as copper or foil, which will prevent chemicals leaching through pipes, however these are not used as standard. Storing chemical containers in suitable areas with adequate bunding and disposing of any chemicals no longer needed through the correct disposal methods is important. Where deliveries are made, great care should be taken during this time to prevent any spillage. Any storage structures should be serviced at regular intervals to monitor changes.