Corrosion is to Blame for Most Water Main Leaks and Breaks
Most people believe that old age is the primary contributor to iron water main leaks and breaks. However, the problem isn't age. It is corrosion. An older pipe can continue to operate as long as corrosion is controlled.
The majority of water piping installed was cast or ductile iron, which was expected to provide water utilities with up to 80 years years of trouble-free service. Unfortunately, these pipes are susceptible to corrosion and subsequent breakage.
Many factors contribute to corrosion-induced water main breaks, including soil conditions, coupling to dissimilar metals, seasonal temperature changes, soil stress, seismic action and stray electrical currents.
Older cast iron pipe consists of flakes of graphite (carbon) in an iron matrix. When the metal corrodes, it loses the iron constituent, leaving behind the graphite. Pipe that has turned to graphite often retains the appearance of sound pipe, leading casual observers to mistakenly believe the pipe has remained corrosion-free for many years. However, the pipe fractures easily because it lacks the strength and ductility of the original iron. Any increase in the external or internal stress on brittle, corroded pipe can quickly result in a water main leaks or a major water main break.
Ductile iron pipe, introduced to water systems in the 1950s and still in use today, was intended to offer better quality than cast iron. However, the pipes matrix and thinner wall make it vulnerable to pitting corrosion attack.
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