Pipe and fittings corrosion

Corrosion is the partial dissolution of the materials constituting the treatment and supply systems, tanks, pipes, valves, and pumps. Pipe and fittings corrosion may lead to structural failure, leaks, loss of capacity, and deterioration of chemical and microbiological water quality. The internal corrosion of pipes and fittings can have a direct impact on the concentration of some water constituents, including lead, copper and nickel. Controlling pipe and fittings corrosion is therefore an important aspect of the management of a water supply system.

Pipe and fitting corrosion: by material

Concrete is a composite material consisting of a cement binder in which an inert aggregate is embedded. Cement is primarily a mixture of calcium silicates and aluminates together with some free lime. Cement mortar, in which the aggregate is fine sand, is used as a protective lining in iron and steel water pipes. In asbestos-cement pipe, the aggregate is asbestos fibres. It should be noted that research has indicated that the use of asbestos in cements in water mains does not pose a health risk. Cement is subject to deterioration on prolonged exposure to aggressive water. This can be, due either to: the dissolution of lime and other soluble compounds; or, to chemical attack by aggressive ions such as chloride or sulphate and this may result in structural failure. Aggressiveness to cement is related to the “Aggressivity Index”, which has been used specifically to assess the potential for the dissolution of concrete. A pH of 8.5 or higher may be necessary to control cement corrosion.

Photo showing concrete riser pipes emerging from a borehole

Copper tubing may be subject to general corrosion, impingement attack and pitting corrosion. General corrosion is most often associated with soft, acid waters; waters with pH below 6.5 and hardness of less than 60 mg/l CaCO3 are very aggressive to copper. The pitting of copper is commonly associated with hard groundwater having a carbon dioxide concentration above 5 mg/l and high dissolved oxygen. Surface waters with organic colour may also be associated with pitting corrosion. A high proportion of general and pitting corrosion problems are associated with new pipe in which a protective oxide layer has not yet formed.

Photo showing spring source with copper spout.

Lead corrosion (plumbosolvency) is of particular concern. Lead piping is still common in old houses, and lead solders have been used widely for jointing copper tube. The solubility of lead is governed by the formation of insoluble lead carbonates. The solubility of lead increases markedly as the pH is reduced below 8 because of the substantial decrease in the equilibrium carbonate concentration. Thus, plumbosolvency tends to be at a maximum in waters with a low pH and low alkalinity, and a useful interim control procedure pending pipe replacement is to maintain pH in the range 8.0 to 8.5 and possibly to dose orthophosphate.

Photo showing water storage tank that could be lead.

Concentrations of nickel up to around 1 mg/l may arise due to the leaching of nickel from new nickel-chromium plated taps and from stainless steel pipes and fittings. Nickel leaching reduces over time. Increase of pH to control corrosion of other materials should also help to reduce leaching of nickel.

Photo of otside tap that has metal fittings.
Back to top