Postprint version. Published in Water Research, Volume 45, Issue 8, April 1, 2011, pages 2607-2615.
NOTE: At the time of publication, the author Ryan Walter was not yet affiliated with Cal Poly.
The definitive version is available at https://doi.org/10.1016/j.watres.2011.02.016.
Plastic piping made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), and chlorinated PVC (CPVC), is being increasingly used for drinking water distribution lines. Given the formulation of the material from vinyl chloride (VC), there has been concern that the VC (a confirmed human carcinogen) can leach from the plastic piping into drinking water. PVC/CPVC pipe reactors in the laboratory and tap samples collected from consumers homes (n = 15) revealed vinyl chloride accumulation in the tens of ng/L range after a few days and hundreds of ng/L after two years. While these levels did not exceed the EPA’s maximum contaminant level (MCL) of 2 μg/L, many readings that simulated stagnation times in homes (overnight) exceeded the MCL-Goal of 0 μg/L. Considerable differences in VC levels were seen across different manufacturers, while aging and biofilm effects were generally small. Preliminary evidence suggests that VC may accumulate not only via chemical leaching from the plastic piping, but also as a disinfection byproduct (DBP) via a chlorine-dependent reaction. This is supported from studies with CPVC pipe reactors where chlorinated reactors accumulated more VC than dechlorinated reactors, copper pipe reactors that accumulated VC in chlorinated reactors and not in dechlorinated reactors, and field samples where VC levels were the same before and after flushing the lines where PVC/CPVC fittings were contributing. Free chlorine residual tests suggest that VC may be formed as a secondary, rather than primary, DBP. Further research and additional studies need to be conducted in order to elucidate reaction mechanisms and tease apart relative contributions of VC accumulation from PVC/CPVC piping and chlorine-dependent reactions.