Topeka, Kansas: A Case Study in Pipe Durability

Topeka, Kansas: A Case Study in Pipe Durability

The Topeka Capital-Journal recently published a story on the large number of water main breaks that the city has endured in recent years. Topeka’s water system relies on 870 miles of pipe. Since the 1940s, Topeka has diversified its system by adding ductile iron pipe and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pipe. Today, the system is 39% cast iron pipe, 27% ductile iron pipe, and 25% PVC pipe (figure 1).


Percentage of Pipe Materials Used

Figure 1: Topeka's system of pipes is about 39% cast iron, 27% ductile iron, and 25% PVC, with the remaining made of various other materials.

Of the city’s water main breaks, approximately 66.8% were from cast iron pipes, 18.4% were from ductile iron pipes, and a mere 4.5% were from PVC pipes (figure 2).

Percentage of Pipe Breaks by Material

Figure 2: In Topeka, 66.8% of breaks occur from cast iron pipes, 18.4% from ductile iron pipes, and 4.5% from PVC pipes.

In Topeka, all iron pipes have a failure rate that is more than 18x the failure rate of PVC (figure 3). Ductile iron pipe devotees (and their lobbyists) will tell you that ductile iron is a great improvement over cast iron. And yet, ductile iron pipe still fails at more than 4x the rate of PVC pipe (figure 4).

Pipe Breaks: Iron V. PVC (%)

Figure 3: All iron pipe accounts for more than 18x as many breaks as PVC pipe.

Pipe Breaks: Ductile Iron v. PVC (%)

Figure 4: Ductile iron pipe accounts for more than 4x as many breaks as PVC pipe despite the fact that ductile iron pipe makes up almost the same share of the system (27%) as PVC pipe (25%).

In fact, Topeka has seen a significant number of ductile iron pipes grossly underperforming their expected life span:

Ductile iron pipe should have a lifespan of 100 years, but [Deputy Director of Utilities Braxton Copley] said the city has seen a large number of breaks in pipes that are only 40 to 50 years old.
— Topeka Capital-Journal

The ductile iron pipe industry wants the public to believe that its product is more reliable than PVC but the facts show otherwise. As demonstrated by this case study, PVC is clearly the more durable material.

Responding to Misleading Social Posts on Luxury Vinyl Plank

Responding to Misleading Social Posts on Luxury Vinyl Plank

Dear vinyl flooring competitors,

Did you really think the public would be swayed by that anonymous Internet post some of you are circulating about Luxury Vinyl Plank (LVP) tile?  You know … the one containing a slew of factual distortions and misleading statements about vinyl flooring products?



The Center for Environmental Fear Mongering Health (CEH) released a report containing a slew of distortions and competitively-motivated claims about PVC pipe.  Here’s what CEH conceals in its irresponsible attempt to mislead readers:


PVC pipe’s safety is well documented.

All PVC pipes in circulation adhere to a strict national standard (NSF 61) to ensure the delivery of safe drinking water. In fact, all pipe materials are tested and screened under this rigid standard. CEH’s claims are merely designed to incite fear, when the facts show PVC pipes are entirely safe for their intended use.


PVC pipe is more durable and affordable than ductile iron pipe – its closest competitor – by a long shot.

PVC pipe has twice the expected lifespan of ductile iron pipe. And it’s far less expensive for municipalities to use.


The life cycle sustainability benefits of PVC pipe are indisputable.

PVC pipe is lighter to transport, requires fewer resources to install, demands fewer machines to manage, and uses less energy because it needs fewer repairs over its lifetime.   It is unquestionably the better environmental choice.


The iron pipe industry has spent millions lobbying its agenda, far more than the PVC pipe industry.¹

Since 2012, the iron pipe industry has spent over $2.3 million to push their political agenda. And that doesn’t include lobbying expenses by the individual iron pipe companies. Didn’t see that anywhere in CEH’s report.


Get the facts about vinyl material and PVC pipe at


Questions Surround Healthy Building Network’s Motives In Latest Anti-PVC Report

Questions Surround Healthy Building Network’s Motives In Latest Anti-PVC Report

The Healthy Building Network (HBN) rekindled its financially-driven distortion campaign against the vinyl industry recently in a one-sided, non-peer reviewed report riddled with inaccuracies and misstatements about PVC (vinyl). And as we’ve done so many times before, to ensure the public isn’t duped by HBN’s deceptions, we’ll take this opportunity to set the record straight. 

The bottom line:

  • The Healthy Building Network hopes uninformed readers will blindly accept its incorrect claim that the vinyl industry is the primary driver of U.S. chlorine production. 

  • We’ve corrected HBN on this point before. But the group insists on driving this false narrative – because HBN’s business division relies on the perpetuation of disparaging statements about our industry. 

  • And it may run deeper than that. HBN’s repeated efforts to misstate PVC’s use of asbestos – while ignoring the global cement building material industry’s rampant consumption of it – raises other questions as to the potential motives driving HBN’s anti-PVC agenda.

  • No matter how many times HBN spreads misinformation about our industry, we’ll continue to use this forum to clarify the facts.  

Let’s breakdown HBN’s inaccuracies:

We’re not sure HBN has a grasp of basic chemistry: HBN continues to risk its reputation by inaccurately asserting PVC is a primary driver of chlorine production when the facts simply don’t support it. Here’s why:

  • Chlorine is derived from sodium chloride, an abundant substance in the earth’s crust widely known as ordinary table salt.

  • During the processing of sodium chloride, both chlorine and another compound -- caustic soda – are produced in practically equal amounts. One cannot be produced without the other in the chlor-alkali process, and both have a wide variety of uses.  

  • According to IHS Markit, vinyl uses a mere 16.5% of the total global output of this process[1], which means the vast majority of it – 83.5% -- is dedicated for non-vinyl purposes including important uses for pulp and paper processing, alumina and other metals treatment, petroleum refining, drinking water purification and waste treatment, pharmaceuticals, and other polymers just to name a few.

  • Using HBN’s own charts, the single largest use of chlorine in Europe is the isocyanates and oxygenates category, which eclipsed PVC use in 2015 for the first time.  HBN ignores its own data and continues to mislead the public about PVC;

  • HBN makes no acknowledgement of the dominant role caustic soda demand plays to drive chlor-alkali production volumes.

HBN apparently opposes clean drinking water: HBN opposes chlorine production – which if eliminated, all of its vital uses would disappear, most notably the critical role it plays in purifying water by the municipal sources we drink to survive. Chlorine is essential to ensuring a safe water supply, and water purification is one of the primary uses of the compound throughout the United States. Yet HBN strangely remains fixated on its use in PVC. Sorry, HBN: You can’t oppose chlor-alkali production without rejecting all of the benefits we derive from it. 

HBN apparently opposes certain life-saving drugs, too: Caustic soda, the co-product of chlor-alkali production, is required to make aspirin, widely used to prevent heart attacks. It’s also used in synthesis of anticoagulants to stop blood clots, and in creating cholesterol-lowering medicines.  Many other pharmaceuticals use chlorine derivatives in their production as well. HBN’s opposition to chlor-alkali production demands a similar opposition to these life-saving therapies.  Again, HBN cannot have it both ways.

Some HBN claims are just flat wrong. Take, for instance, HBN’s claim that a Texas PVC plant is dumping PVC pellets into the Gulf of Mexico.  There’s just one problem: The plant they identify doesn’t make PVC pellets – and neither do any of the surrounding facilities in the area. 

Other HBN claims conflate data and draw false conclusions.  Here’s an example:  

The U.S. EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory lists annual releases of emissions to air, water, and land by all facilities above a certain threshold. But HBN irresponsibly adds, averages, and normalizes those releases over a five year period in a deceptive effort to conflate the numbers.   

  • Some U.S. chlor-vinyl facilities actually show decreases of reported emissions over a year-by-year comparison – but HBN hides this inconvenient fact that doesn’t help the group’s anti-PVC agenda.

  • HBN also lumps mercury cell and asbestos chlor-alkali capacity into one category, when mercury cell facilities are being replaced with newer technologies and are a small subset of global chlor-alkali capacity.

  • Similar to other emission conflations, HBN sums the emissions on a cumulative basis from the two remaining mercury cell plants to disguise the actual 82% reduction of emissions since 1987.  That doesn’t just provide a disservice to readers – such methods are flat wrong and deceptive.

HBN conflated and misrepresented Vinyl Institute (VI) data to draw inaccurate conclusions: HBN conflated and misconstrued the findings of a 2017 VI presentation about PVC pipes as part of its decades-long pursuit to mislead the public about the material.  HBN claimed VI’s data found approximately 95 PVC pipes tested between 1998 and 2015 contained residual vinyl chloride monomer (RVCM) levels that exceeded the national standard.  HBN, again, is flat wrong:

  • VI’s data reported 0.1% of 9,500 samples tested were over the NSF Standard 61’s RVCM limit. These numbers are clearly stated in the VI presentation. 
  • But HBN purposely miscalculated this number and claimed 95 samples were over the limit.
  • VI’s supporting data shows just 11 samples out of 9,528 were out of compliance and those were reportedly from manufacturers outside the U.S. seeking to sell products into the U.S. marketplace.
But here’s the kicker: HBN concealed the fact that the samples of pipes or fittings that were over the NSF limit were rejected and never used in any drinking water systems. HBN conveys the irresponsible impression that the few pipes found to be out of compliance are currently in circulation — and any such claim is categorically false.  The national standard that certifies pipes for the delivery of safe drinking water (NSF Standard 61) screens materials to prevent those that do not pass its RVCM tests from ever being used. HBN’s failure to clarify these facts further demonstrates the organization’s complete lack of understanding of the NSF Standard 61 screening process -- and only reaffirms HBN’s fanatical desire to perpetuate deceptions about PVC material.

HBN continues to mislead readers on PVC and mercury. HBN claims there are a “substantial number” of facilities that use mercury cell technology. In fact, there are only two – and they represent merely one percent of all U.S. chlor-alkali capacity. U.S. vinyl chloride producers do not rely on chlorine produced from these facilities, contrary to HBN’s repeated efforts to mislead the public on this point. 

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In its haste to deceive readers about the PVC industry, HBN fails to explain that the small amount of mercury released by these two U.S. plants was 988 pounds for 2016 and represents just 0.02% of the total 4,175,137 pounds released for all regulated industries nationwide, based on EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory for 2016.

HBN distorts the facts on PVC and asbestos, too: HBN wants readers to believe the PVC industry drives asbestos production – but the U.S. chlor-alkali industry consumed less than 0.03%[2] of global asbestos production.  Its fractional use is restricted to diaphragms that separate sodium from chlorine in the chlor-alkali electrolysis cell. And plants that still use this technology are heavily regulated and conform to strict U.S. Environmental Protection (EPA) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards.   Given these facts, it is ludicrous to assert, as HBN does, that a mine in Brazil is being reopened to supply U.S. chlor-alkali needs. It’s just not true.

If HBN is concerned about asbestos production, why does it conspicuously avoid mentioning cement building products – the single largest user of asbestos? These products, which include cement asbestos siding, roofing tiles and cement pipe, are the largest users of asbestos, primarily in third world developing countries. So why does HBN single out the PVC industry for using only 0.03% of it?  If asbestos is such a concern to HBN, why does HBN carefully sidestep any reference whatsoever to its single largest consumer

We already know HBN runs a business practice that drives its anti-PVC agenda. We’ve touched on this before: HBN operates an anti-PVC division and advises commercial clients on using non-PVC materials.  The business model is pretty simple: Flood the online space with disinformation about PVC, and then seek to profit from it by selling services to businesses and organizations on ways to avoid it. 

Missing, of course, from HBN’s report … is the record of significant health, safety, and environmental improvements made not just in the chlor-alkali industry, but also by downstream consumers. Over the past two decades, industry emissions of vinyl chloride have been reduced by 84% while production volumes have increased 99%. Much of these improvements have been driven by innovations in product and processing technologies by vinyl resin producers.

But we’re not expecting HBN to deliver the facts about PVC to readers anytime soon. HBN’s anti-PVC agenda has deep, entrenched roots. And all one has to do is read this quote attributed HBN’s Founder, former Greenpeace employee and activist Bill Walsh, way back in 2005 to understand the bias that has driven the group’s financially-driven claims against PVC: “Right now, stopping the use of polyvinyl chloride plastic, also known as PVC or vinyl, is our top priority.  We use a variety of strategies, from technical consultations to grassroots activism, to convince consumers, especially those with major commercial interests, to alter their purchasing habits.” – HBN Founder Bill Walsh, Grist, 2.22.05 

Need we say more?

[1] IHS Markit Chlorine and Caustic Soda Demand, World: 2016.

[2] According to HBN’s own statement, U.S. chlor-alkali producers consume on average 480 tons per year asbestos (see p. 40).  Global asbestos consumption in 2016 was estimated at 1,497,943 tons (see p. 5 in “The Fall of the Asbestos Empire” by Laurie Kazen-Allen Sept. 17, 2017 @ The calculation is then 480/1497943 = 0.00032 which is 0.03%.

Correcting DIPRA’s Fantasy World

DIPRA’s latest ad is riddled with inaccuracies and misleading statements about ductile iron and PVC pipe. We highlight the facts:

Vox Misleads

Vox recently published an irresponsible story misleading readers to believe plastic food containers contain phthalates that are “leaching" into the food we eat. There’s just one problem: The use of ortho-phthalates in U.S. food packaging is approaching zero percent And this industry trend has occurred despite the fact the FDA regulations approve the use of phthalates in food packaging. Vox, has chosen to ignores these facts since they fail to advance the story’s apparent predetermined anti-chemistry viewpoint. For an accurate look at the safety of food packaging, click here.

Two-Faced Claims By The Iron Pipe Industry

Two-Faced Claims By The Iron Pipe Industry

Lobby groups that hypocritically condemn the conduct of competing industries should spend a little time in front of the mirror before casting their aspersions.

The Ductile Iron Pipe Research Association (DIPRA) reignited its long running disinformation campaign against PVC pipe in recent weeks. Patrick Hogan, DIPRA’s president, wrote this op-ed replete with inaccuracies and misleading assertions about our material.  But among his statements, he insinuates that the views of certain experts who have been outspoken in advancing the facts about PVC pipe shouldn’t be trusted because they’ve received financial support, he alleges, from the PVC industry.

CheatSheet Spreads False, Fear Mongering Clickbait

It looks like Julia Mullaney at CheatSheet may have been doing a bit of cheating herself, by publishing a story containing the similar distortions about vinyl perpetuated by Reader’s Digest just a few months ago, a story we previously confronted.  

Ms. Mullaney dismisses basic science and misleads readers on a wide range of vinyl products. We’ll focus specifically on her false claims regarding vinyl and PVC to set the record straight: