As fingers point in every direction to assign blame for the problems in Flint, MI, a simple fact continues to be overlooked by press and politicians alike, and it demands our immediate attention.

Thousands of miles of deteriorating, underground metallic pipes are at risk of contaminating local water supplies across the country, potentially impacting the health and wellness of millions of Americans.  

Corrosive water causes metallic pipes to break down, and the problem isn’t unique to Flint. As many as 75 percent of utilities across our nation sit on corrosive soils, which cause metallic pipes to corrode and create potential health concerns.  And metallic pipe corrosion can contaminate drinking water that has previously been treated — at taxpayers’ expense.  A waste of precious resources that cannot be recovered.

Making matters worse is the fact that some metallic pipes and fittings connected to iron water mains contain lead— which has reportedly been leaching into Flint’s drinking water. It’s happening in a Sebring, OH community now, too. Incredibly, the only available triage is to add more chemicals to the water supply to counteract corrosion.

That’s a major reason why municipalities and homeowners across America are replacing aging metallic pipes with PVC pipes.

Ask Burton, MI Mayor Paula Zelenko, whose city is located in the same county as Flint.  Mayor Zelenko is spearheading an initiative in Burton to replace deteriorating iron pipes with PVC in her community.  She publicly stated PVC is “clearly the better choice for the positive impact it will have on the environment … as well as for the cost savings it will bring.”  The 19 mile project, when completed, will replace “corroded, dilapidated cast iron pipe with high quality, healthy, low cost PVC pipe -- benefitting the residents of the City of Burton in many ways for decades to come,” she added.  In the end, the City of Burton, MI expects to save over $2 million by replacing their existing metal pipes with PVC pipe, allowing taxpayers resources to be allocated to other critical needs throughout the city.

Experts assign PVC a 100+ year life span. And in addition to avoiding the corrosion problems afflicting Flint, PVC meets rigorous EPA and NSF standards for safe drinking water, and has even been shown to reduce water main breaks.

One is right to wonder if the residents of Flint and Sebring – and communities across the country – have an opinion as to which material they’d prefer.

An estimated 300,000 water main breaks occur throughout the U.S. and Canada each year resulting in the loss of 2.6 trillion gallons of drinking water, the vast majority of which are the result of corrosion in iron pipes.  That presents a major concern for taxpayers. And as the last generation of city infrastructure ages, water main breaks will become more common, and city officials everywhere will find themselves in the difficult position of having to replace their own aging iron pipe systems.   

The question is, will they use materials that are known to corrode and contaminate over time – or select proven cost-effective alternatives that might avoid many of these problems?

Clean tap water isn’t a luxury, and Americans should never have to question whether the water they drink is hurting their loved ones.  The good news is that homeowners and local governments are catching on, where PVC piping systems will continue to replace aging, outdated systems across the country.


Dick Doyle, President and CEO

The Vinyl Institut