Plastic Pollution: A Consequence of Lead Contamination

Plastic Pollution: A Consequence of Lead Contamination
08 Jun 2018

Installing lead service lines has been illegal since 1986, yet according to the American Water Works Association millions of previously installed lines are lurking underground potentially affecting hundreds of communities across North America. The only proven way to eliminate lead contamination in drinking water systems is to replace all lead piping. However, at first glance, when evaluating the cost and time to replace a system, a “Band-Aid approach,” such as installing water filters or buying plastic water bottles, can seem more appealing.

Replacing lead water pipes with copper piping between the street and homes in Flint, Michigan

The nation’s drinking water infrastructure issue was exposed in 2014, when Flint officials switched the city’s water source from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (sourced from Lake Huron and the Detroit River) to the Flint River. This cost-saving measure resulted in corrosive water breaking down a protective chemical layer lining the existing lead pipes, exposing residents to lead contamination. Lacking another source for clean, safe water, the City’s residents were forced to turn to bottled water for drinking, bathing and cooking. At the height of the crisis, nearly 1.3 million water bottles were distributed daily.

Plastic water bottle use is one of the biggest contributors to ocean pollution. According to only 23 percent of plastic water bottles are recycled in the U.S., with the vast majority ending up in landfills or dump sites. With 38 out of 50 of the world’s largest uncontrolled dumpsites located in coastal regions, plastic water bottles find their way into the ecosystem and contribute significantly to plastic pollution.

Flint isn’t the only example of a drinking water crisis that forced residents to turn to water bottles for clean, safe water. Santa Rosa, California is dealing with a chemical contamination problem in its water system due to a fire, which caused its plastic piping to breakdown. Additionally, water main and service line breaks in countless cities throughout the country put water delivery at risk daily. All of these situations increase the potential use of plastic bottles, which can be environmentally troublesome.

We can do better!

Flint and Lansing, Michigan; Madison and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, among other cities, are examples where municipality leaders are stepping up to prevent future crises, and an unintended reliance on plastic water bottles. City officials are improving the safety, reliability and resiliency of their water systems by replacing their lead service lines with copper.IMG_1489

Without a proactive lead replacement program in place, municipalities across the country could end up making the plastic pollution problem worse. To learn more about the benefits of copper piping for water distribution systems, visit


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