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Leaky pipes could allow 'contaminants' into drinking water

Research has shown that leaking water pipes can allow potentially harmful contaminants into drinking water.

Engineers at the University of Sheffield found that contaminants enter pipes through leaks and are then transported through the pipe network.

The pressure in mains water pipes usually forces water out through leaks, preventing anything else from getting in.

However, when there is a significant pressure drop in a damaged section of pipe, water surrounding the pipe can be sucked in through the hole.

It had been assumed that only clean water from the leak would be sucked in, and that even if contaminants were sucked in these would simply be ejected once the pressure returned to normal.

Research has shown, however, that groundwater from around the pipe – which often contains harmful contaminants – can be sucked in, remain in the pipe and travel on through the network.

As a result of the research, water companies are now training their field staff in how to limit these pressure drops taking place.

Drinking water is tested for harmful contaminants and complies with the regulations over 99% of the time. But any failure is cause for concern, according to lead researcher Professor Joby Boxall.

“Previous studies have shown that material around water pipes contains harmful contaminants, including viruses and bacteria from faeces, so anything sucked into the network through a leak is going to include things we don’t want to be drinking,” said Professor Boxall.

“It’s not feasible for the water industry to stop all leaks, and most of the time leaks don’t pose a risk. This is why the water industry is now focusing on preventing the pressure changes that enable contaminants to enter the system, rather than eliminating the leaks through which they enter.”

Combatting Legionella & Water Treatment conference

The 12th Annual Combatting Legionella & Water Treatment conference will take place on 29-30 September at Aston Villa Park in Birmingham.

A comprehensive and cutting-edge event, the conference ensures engineering and facilities management teams are able to prevent legionella bacteria from developing and comply with water safety regulations.

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