News Feature | July 17, 2017

Hydrovacing Helps Flint Track Lead Pipes

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome
@sarmje

corrosion reg new

Some cities are touting a method for finding lead pipes, which can contaminate drinking water, that they say is faster and cheaper than traditional processes.

Flint, MI, is among the cities trying the method known as “hydrovacing” to dig up pipes as the city seeks to determine which lines are copper and which are lead.

“Digging a hole with a backhoe to see if the pipe connecting homes to city water mains is slow and expensive. It's not something a city like Flint, which is replacing thousands of suspect service lines, has time or money to do. So starting this month, the city is turning to a tool that uses high-pressure water to bore a hole,” Michigan Radio reported.

“This method is considered a non-destructive way to excavate,” ABC 12 reported.

The goal is to locate and replace 6,000 lead and galvanized service lines this year. Officials plan to continue at this pace for three years. Lead and galvanized steel pipes are a major source of lead particles, which have entered the city’s water supply in recent years.

“Flint’s tap water is being treated with additional anti-corrosion chemicals to reduce the problem and tests have shown a reduction in lead in the water. But damage done to the aging lead and galvanized service lines during the time the city drew its drinking water from the Flint River is prompting the city to remove all the suspect lines,” the report said.

University of Michigan researchers estimated in December that Flint has as many as 29,100 lead or galvanized steel lines that may need replacing, according to The Detroit News.

“That’s more than half, 53 percent, of the service lines leading to 55,000 homes and businesses in Flint,” the report said, citing Mayor Karen Weaver.

Flint’s lead crisis, which left hundreds of children with high blood lead levels, followed the city’s switch from the Detroit water supply to Flint River water.

The city is working on public outreach about its pipe replacement effort.

“They're starting a Facebook page and Twitter and Instagram accounts dedicated to pipe replacement updates. Contractors and volunteers with AARP are going door-to-door, passing out pamphlets and asking residents for permission to pull service lines. Technically, the lines are owned by residents, but being replaced for free,” ABC 12 reported.

Image credit: "scott robinson," beach pipe © 2012, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/