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Study of pinhole leaks in water pipes ending without ID of cause

The Plainview Water District hired Marc A. Edwards and his team to help figure out what was causing leaks in water pipes of customers’ homes.

Wayne Weinstein's Plainview home has been plagued with

Wayne Weinstein's Plainview home has been plagued with pinhole leaks developing in his copper pipes. The green stain on the pipe is the erosion, which starts inside the pipe. Photo Credit: David L. Pokress

A Virginia Tech expert hired by the Plainview Water District to examine pinhole water-pipe leaks in customers’ homes has completed his investigation and said while the cause is unclear, changing water chemistry could be a solution.

The district hired Marc A. Edwards and his team earlier this year to help figure out what was causing leaks in the homes of about 15 percent of its customers, causing thousands of dollars in damage.

The researchers, whose contract was capped at $7,500, analyzed water chemistry, pipe thickness and pits in the affected piping.

“Even though the cause of pitting is unclear that this time, it is possible that a change in corrosion control might reduce the frequency of pitting,” wrote Edwards, who most recently helped uncover high lead conditions in drinking-water pipes in Flint, Michigan.

While Edwards investigated, the district began boosting alkalinity levels and as of this month, the treatment is on all wells, said Marc Laykind, one of three commissioners of the district’s elected board.

Higher alkalinity levels help reduce corrosive acids and the hope is that this will halt future leaks.

“We really feel confident this is going to slow things down,” Laykind said.

The district has also begun surveying plumbers and asking for their reports and experiences as a way to measure if the treatment is working.

There is no one state or county entity that tracks pinhole leaks, making it hard to quantify the problem.

And no one culprit has emerged. Bad piping, stray electrical current and high water pressure have also been considered.

“What everyone has to understand is there’s a lot of things that are contributing to it and they may not even be able to put their finger on [the cause],” said Stan Carey, who is chair of the Long Island Water Conference and Massapequa Water District superintendent.

The conference, a coalition of more than 50 suppliers and industry professionals, is not looking at the problem overall but some members are investigating, Carey said.

The Nassau County health department has received a few calls of pinhole leaks but the agency is not studying the issue, said spokeswoman Mary Ellen Laurain.

The same can be said in Suffolk County, where Department of Health Services spokeswoman Grace Kelly-McGovern said most water suppliers provide corrosion control treatment.

Bethpage Water District, which borders Plainview, has had a handful of pinhole leaks reported, Superintendent Mike Boufis said.

When the district started chlorinating the water in 2010, they also had reports. Stray electric current outside the homes has also caused issues.

“It’s across the country,” he said. “It’s everywhere. It’s not just Long Island.”

Jack Auld has had pinhole leaks in his Lake Ronkonkoma home for the past five years, as have some of his neighbors.

“I have well water and it’s doing the same thing,” Auld said.

His plumber believes a bad supply of copper pipes at the time his house was built could be the cause.

He’s had a number of leaks in the basement, causing him to rip out ceilings. “I hate to close it up because I’ll have to open it up again,” he said. “It’s a real nightmare problem.”

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