Pipe group preaches benefits of PEadmin
Lansing, Mich. — On a swing through Michigan with 10,000 pounds of water pipe exhibits in tow and a band of experts at his side, Peter Dyke gave his high density polyethylene 101 presentations to crowds of all sizes.
The turnout was great in Livonia for the executive director of the Alliance for PE Pipe and the resin and pipe manufacturers and equipment demonstrators who accompany him. He said about 70 people, including representatives from Wayne County and the cities of Detroit, Troy, Novi, Warren, Trenton, Berkley, Ann Arbor, Midland, Monroe and Redford Township showed up on Sept. 27 to learn about a fast trenchless installation method called pipe bursting.
However, the next day at a meeting center in the state capitol of Lansing, where about 140 members of the media and Legislature had been invited, only two reporters were in the audience. Dyke said he also had invited the 15 members of Gov. Rick Snyder’s 21st Century Infrastructure Commission, which is charged with identifying the best practices to modernize Michigan’s water and sewer, transportation, energy and communications infrastructures.
Meanwhile, across town in Lansing, the governor held a news conference about the strides Michigan has made in the year since his administration first acknowledged elevated lead levels in Flint water.
In April 2014, a state-appointed financial manager switched the city’s source of drinking water from Lake Huron to the Flint River in an attempt to save money. The proper anti-corrosion controls weren’t used and the more caustic river water damaged the pipe system. It ate away at a protective coating that stopped lead from leaching into the water supply. Residents immediately complained about the smell, taste and color of their tap water and then about health concerns like rashes, hair loss and stunted development of children.
The governor said Michigan has appropriated $234 million to the Flint water crisis, including $27 million for pipe replacement. So far, 144 lead service lines (LSLs) have been replaced in Flint. Estimates vary as to how much more work lies ahead. Early projections indicated there are about 5,000 LSLs and 10,000 galvanized steel lines, which corrode and leave nooks where lead can settle. However, new research from the University of Michigan suggests Flint may have to remove 20,000 to 25,000 LSLs.
Also, Sept. 28 in Washington, a Congressional stalemate ended over a spending bill that would authorize $170 million for Flint and other cities with water contamination emergencies.
“Residents of Flint still can’t turn on their faucets and drink the water straight from the tap. This is a problem that must be fixed,” Flint Mayor Karen Weaver said in a Sept. 28 news release. “The citizens of Flint deserve new lead-free pipes and funding from our federal government would help us provide essential infrastructure needs and other resources.”
Catherine Kavanaugh Showing the pipe bursting method of installing pipe without the need for trenches.
Benefits of PE
Back at the Lansing Center, Dyke was extolling the benefits of PE pipe as the “responsible” answer to water infrastructure in Flint and everywhere. Michigan isn’t alone, he said: Dangerous pipes also are abundant in Wisconsin, which has at least 176,000 LSLs carrying drinking water to homes and business.
Dyke said PE is the best pipe solution because it doesn’t leach lead, leak, corrode or pull apart at the joints during earthquakes, let alone freeze-thaw cycles. Also, bacteria like legionella won’t grow in PE pipe as it does in the corroded crannies of metal pipe, Dyke said, noting Legionnaires’ disease killed 12 people and sickened another 80 in Genesee County, where Flint is located, in 2014 and 2015. On Sept. 29, the county announced a 10th case of the disease for 2016 and the third one in two weeks.
“Polyethylene won’t support any microbiology,” Dyke said. “Algae won’t grow on it. Nothing will grow on it and we’re doing a study on zebra mussels. We’re finding they just wipe right off. What we’re hoping is that the quantities of disinfectants [used by treatment plants] will drop off because you don’t have these biological growths and you’re not trying to protect the water from the pipe because it is already protected.”
Today’s PE pipe is made from a fourth-generation resin that allows pipe sections to be heated and fused under such great pressure, Dyke said when it cools, the fused joint is stronger than the pipe wall.
“Fusion. That’s the magic sauce,” he said. “That’s how we obtain a leak-free system and that’s pretty cool because we lose 2.1 trillion gallons of water a year moving it from Point A to B.”
The fused PE sections also are flexible enough to withstand major ground movement — even the 9.0-magnitude earthquake in Tohoku, Japan, in 2011. Dyke said there were no PE pipe failures there, or Christchurch, New Zealand, in 2010 and 2011 during multiple earthquakes or Concepcion, Chile, in 2010.
“It’s a remarkable resin,” Dyke said. “The resin is what allows us to make these great claims and show this wonderful performance in the field.”
Another offer to Flint
The field doesn’t include Flint, however. Los Angeles-based JM Eagle offered to replace every LSL in the city of 99,000 with PE for free back in February. The offer still stands but no action was ever taken on it.
Richard Kolasa, technical sales manager for WL Plastics, a PE pipe producer based in Fort Worth, Texas, and an alliance member, said his company reached out to Flint officials, too.
“We offered a pilot [program] but never heard anything,” Kolasa said.
John Dulmes, executive director of the Michigan Chemistry Council, pointed out that Flint has been specifying copper service lines to date.
“They didn’t take any bids from polyethylene when they were doing the Fast Start,” Dulmes said of the Flint mayor’s program to replace service lines in high-priority areas with large populations of children and known concentrations of lead and corroding galvanized water lines.
Dyke hopes the trade group gets a chance someday to show people in Flint the mechanical strength and ease of installation of PE pipe.
“If we were able to obtain an audience with the Flint folks and who’s in charge, we’d offer to work [with] their engineers on a neighborhood pilot project and we’d offer the talents of everyone in this room without cost as part of the fix,” Dyke said. “They need to know about this and it’s irresponsible not to consider it in our view.”
On the road
As the trade group packed up in Lansing and headed to its next stop in DeWitt, Mich., Dyke was pleased that about 30 people, including someone from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, had signed up to attend the presentation. With less than 10 percent of the potable water pipe market share, PE pipe buyers like the city of Livonia are consider “early adopters” even though the product has been around since 1959, is used almost exclusively in the U.S. to distribute natural gas, and is widely used in Europe for drinking water systems.
Potable PE pipe is picking up market share slowly. Last year, about 15,000 miles of the product was installed for U.S. water systems.
“One of the things we’re excited about in the industry is that civil engineers are picking up on the resiliency of PE pipe,” Dyke said. “During a significant event, you want to make sure the hospitals, schools and first responder locations can continue to operate. Polyethylene pipe is the answer to keep water, waste water and gas running. Engineers are beginning to listen to that message.”
The Alliance for PE Pipe is made up of resin producers, PE pipe manufacturers, pipe fitting and equipment companies.