No on “Epoxy Pipes”

Update (5/15/17): The city manager sent this explanation to the Council today:

During the Cambridge Water Board meeting held on May 2, 2017, a discussion that occurred implied that “plastic” pipes were being installed in the water transmission and distribution piping system in the next 3-5 years.  It appears that there was a misunderstanding between the Water Board and the Cambridge Water Department. I have spoken with the Managing Director of the Water Department and the President of the Water Board, and there are no plans to install “plastic” pipes, including cured in place pipes (epoxy bonded or coated pipes). There were over 40 people in attendance at this meeting, and participants were encouraged by the Water Board to email the City Council and the City Manager about this issue.

The standard pipe for the Cambridge Water Department is ductile iron cement lined pipe. Just recently, we replaced approximately 2300 feet of a 42-inch diameter riveted steel water transmission main on Huron Avenue with ductile iron cement lined pipe, the City’s standard water pipe material. This standard was defined and established in the early 70s, and it continues to be our standard.

All of our water works projects are required to meet American Water Works Association (AWWA) Standards, American National Standards Institute (ANSI)/National Science Foundation (NSF) ANSI/NSF 61 guidelines, Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MDEP) and other technical requirements and reviews.

In about five years, a design project for the replacement of the 42-inch diameter riveted steel transmission main that runs from the treatment plant to our storage tank in Belmont (Payson Park) will begin.  This significant project will require a consultant to determine the appropriate design for the rehabilitation of this water line. The project will require a public process in both Cambridge and Belmont. At this time, we expect this project to use the standard ductile iron cement lined pipe, and any recommendation from a consultant for deviation from this standard would be discussed at public meetings and would need to meet national standards.

Update (5/14/17): I spoke directly with the city manager on 5/13 and was informed that he and his staff are working on a response to these questions that will be made public on Monday, 5/15.

The City Council has been inundated with dozens of emails from residents who are opposed to an issue before the Water Board: whether to use epoxy to bond polyurethane lining when replacing an aging 42″ water main carrying water from our storage basin in Belmont’s Payson Park to the water treatment facility at Fresh Pond, and potentially for other larger pipes that will need repair in the future. It is the polyurethane that would be in contact with the water if this process where used.

The question is not presently before the City Council for a vote, and it’s not entirely clear who would make the final decision. The city manager-appointed 5-resident Water Board’s authority is described in Chapter 2.70 of the Municipal Ordinance. However, on the Water Dept’s website the authority over repairs is described as resting with the managing director of the Water Dept, who reports to the city manager. I first heard about this issue from the Water Board Chair Ann Roosevelt, who is opposed to using epoxy bonding. Ann invited two health experts to present at the Water Board’s public meeting earlier this month. Notes on the meeting discussion taken by Nora Bent, my legislative aide, are pasted below.

To follow up, I asked Sam Corda, the managing director of the Water Department, about the epoxy issue during last week’s Budget Hearings. He stated that the no decision is imminent and nothing will be decided without a “big public process.” He mentioned hiring a consultant to help evaluate the options. If you wish to listen to Mr Corda’s explanation of where the issue stands, fast forward to the 1 hour 44 minute mark in this video of the May 10 Budget Hearing.

Residents have been very effective in making their vehement opposition known, and based on “knowledge gaps” described by the two health experts, I would not support the use of epoxy and polyurethane lining, even if using it would save money or reduce construction disruption compared to replacing water mains with traditional pipes.

Nora’s notes from May 2 meeting of Water Board:

Water Board Chair Ann Roosevelt (AR): meeting is to discuss the health effects of plastic-coated pipes that are under consideration to repair large water main pipes (CIPP: Cured in place pipe)

  • Only large water mains (40-60 inches)

o   Water Board has statutory authority because it pre-dates Plan E

o   AR thinks that the Water Board will make the final decision, but she says that the City Manager might disagree.

o   This could be 5 years out, could be less. They wanted to have a robust conversation and felt that starting that now was the best plan. AR introduces the first guest presenter:

o   Presentation: “Drinking Water Pipe Repairs with Coatings and Liners: Experience & Knowledge Gaps”

o   Iron pipes nationwide are aging. Cities can either repair (best option) or replace (very expensive and significant construction disruption)

  • Necessary to improve water pressure, speed up flow, improve quality

o   Plastics: Low-cost, corrosion resistant, easy installation

  • New-ish (20 year) technology
  • The coating is manufactured inside the pipe, so there is no massive construction to dig up the street
  • CIPP: Plastic pipe that is chemically manufactured inside the iron pipe
  • Historically, epoxy resin has been used (strong and can withhold pressure)
  • CIPP can take hours to days to cure, by steam, hot water, or UV light
  • 50% of all pipes repaired by CIPP resin that is inserted into the pipe
  • Life span about 50 years but could be significantly less

o   Product-testing standards for plastic water infrastructure are deficient

o   Drinking Water Safety

  • Typical: 1-6 milligrams of organic carbon, 6.5-8.5 ph
  • All plastics leach chemicals
  • The chemicals can be used by organisms to grow and can react with other elements in the water
  • Can change the ph of the water
  • Can impact the odor of the water

o   Misconceptions

  • National Sanitation Foundation International (NSFI) claims to have product testing authority but they do not, and neither does the EPA
  • There are some tests for the pipes but they are not conclusive
  • Don’t test for the first 4 days
  • No organic carbon test
  • Water ph allows some plastics to leach more
  • No tests are publicly available
  • The industry assumes that having no standard means it doesn’t harm, but this is not true!

o   Epoxy

  • Older epoxy leaches more than newer epoxy
  • Wide variability in leaching
  • Chemicals released have no standard
  • Odors can be caused (can smell like gasoline, but still can pass all “standards”…we just don’t have a broad test yet)

o   Very little information available about chemical leaching from epoxy materials used for drinking water

o   What can cities do

  • Local accountability
  • Can require more stringent tests in addition to NSFI
  • Determine pass/fail standards
  • Have contractors pre-test and do testing after the pipes are installed
  • Make contractors on the hook for bad installation
  • All of the above should be included in the bid

AR introduces second guest presenter:

  • Joan Ruderman, Cell biology professor at Harvard Medical School and Princeton (

o   Presentation: “Epoxy Resins, BPA, and Human Health: What we Know and Don’t”

o   Many chemicals have impacts on hormones

  • Normal reproductive organ development, timing of puberty, hormonal cancers (Early fetal exposure can have later life impact)
  • BPA is an endocrine disruptor in animals

o   DDT is like BPA. DDT had…

  • Wildlife impacts, especially on birds
  • Acted like estrogen but had a different chemical structure
  • Increased risk of breast cancer later in life to young children exposed

o   BPA Is a versatile chemical

  • Mimics the effects of estrogen
  • Has good consumer impacts: clear, shatterproof, heat resistant, moldable (Glasses, water bottles, baby bottles)
  • Is a component of many epoxies

o   In animal studies, BPA caused…

  • Early puberty in females
  • Decreased quality of egg and sperm
  • Changes in breast health and structure
  • Abnormal prostate growth
  • Behavioral changes (anxiety)
  • Obviously, you cannot intentionally do human experiments, but some studies have been done based on people who have been exposed
  • Example: it is used in cash register receipts, and we know that cashiers have higher amounts of BPA in their blood

o   Human impact

  • BPA crosses the placenta barrier in pregnant women
  • Some behavioral problems
  • No links to pre-puberty
  • Mixed results regarding fertility, premature birth
  • Too early to know about impact on breast cancer rates
  • And too early to know about many results. With DDT, there were 50 year-long studies to show the impacts on women and their daughters.

o   BPA replacements are just as bad! Similar chemical

o   Serious concerns about the health implications of BPA, which is in epoxies

  • The difference in cost is significant (50%)

o   But, the life span is shorter than iron pipes. So, maybe not as much cost-savings across the pipe life cycle

  • Remaining questions

o   Exactly what are the cost savings?

  • Councillor Craig Kelley suggested a water rate increase
  • What are the hazards of the current pipes
  • When exactly does this repair need to be done?
  • Meeting was recorded by CCTV and the PowerPoints will likely be online (My note: The Water Board’s minutes are not up to date — the last meeting minutes posted online date to Dec 2016. The Board meets monthly and minutes should be more timely.)

o   Water Board will be continuing the discussion.

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Jan Devereux
City Councillor
Cambridge, MA