The home plumbing systems of yesteryear were held to a very different standard than the ones built today. If your house was constructed before 1970 and has never had its plumbing upgraded, chances are the system features galvanized steel—a metal notorious for corroding and contaminating water.
But it’s not just galvanized steel you ought to have concerns about. There are several health risks and hazards that arise from old plumbing and its negative impact on the water you drink.
How Can Old Plumbing Affect Drinking Water?
There are many ways in which old, outdated water pipes can affect drinking water, or any water, for that matter. However, it is most often contaminated drinking water that we notice first, due to our regular consumption of it.
From flavor and smell quality to the spread of bacteria, old pipes can cause a variety of problems that need proper identification before they can get properly fixed. Without further ado, let’s take a look at five of the most common ways that old plumbing can affect your drinking water.
1. Bacteria Growth
When neighborhood or household water tanks sit stagnant for too long, it can cause unwanted bacteria growth to develop. And if your pipes are old, they could easily harbor bacteria from previous pipe issues.
Other problems, like weak soldering, poor materials, and even the growth of a tree root can cause bacteria to develop inside your water pipes. Unfortunately, this can allow many harmful types of bacteria to grow, such as:
● Escherichia Coli (E. Coli) – Found in feces, E. Coli causes vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, and abdominal cramping.
● Campylobacter jejuni – This bacteria causes infections and can result in symptoms of fever, pain, diarrhea, vomiting, and stomach cramping.
● Hepatitis A – A very serious bacteria often found in contaminated water. It causes jaundice, stomach fever, fatigue, fever, and dark, odorous urine.
● Salmonella – this is a common pathogen responsible for causing headaches, fever, body chills, vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach pain. Its onset is particularly rapid.
● Giardia Lamblia – Though not strictly a bacteria, this parasite causes an infection called giardiasis. The symptoms typically include diarrhea, cramps, nausea, and stomach cramps.
This is just a small handful of potential bacteria that could develop in your water pipes if left unattended. Due to the seriousness of these bacteria and how they affect human health, they are all a great incentive to get your plumbing system updated by professionals.
2. Taste, Smell, And Quality
One of the most tangible ways to become aware of poor or outdated plumbing is through the flavor and smell quality of your household drinking water. If the water tastes muddy, metallic, or otherwise unpleasant, it’s highly likely that there’s a leak or rupture somewhere letting in bacteria or rust.
Clean water should have no discernable flavor or smell. It should be completely clear while having no particular color, taste, or smell that deviates from the norm. While some clean water does taste vaguely of trace minerals such as zinc, it should generally be flavorless and transparent with no smell.
3. Rust Contamination
If your pipes are made of galvanized steel or some other rust-prone metal, rust is likely to develop over time. This can cause problems for your water supply and expose you (and anyone you live with or visits) to rust contamination.
Rust contamination can lead to the staining of fixtures, laundry, and appliances. While high levels of rust in your water supply can give it an unpleasant smell, taste, and appearance, it’s not likely to result in any major health concerns.
4. Mold Growth
Mold loves dark, wet, and stagnant places. If your house’s plumbing system is too old, it could create the perfect environment for mold growth to thrive. Unfortunately, this can cause a multitude of health problems for the people that drink out of your water supply.
Some of the most common types of mold to develop inside damp, dark pipes include:
● Alternaria – With a dark green or brown velvet-like texture, this mold often appears after water damage or leaks. It can cause allergic reactions, such as hives, asthmatic symptoms, and itching.
● Acremonium – a fine, powdery white and pink mold, acremonium loves moist areas. Exposure can cause hazardous and highly toxic reactions, such as vomiting, nausea, and in extreme cases, can even cause diseases in the immune system and organs.
● Chaetomium – A cotton-like mold that turns from white to brown to black over time. Chaetomium causes skin and nail infections and produces toxins that compromise immune systems.
You don’t want any of these mold types to have the opportunity to grow inside your plumbing system. However, without clean pipes and regular maintenance, mold can only be expected to spread.
5. Lead Contamination
Lead pipes, alloys, and solder were often used in old plumbing systems. However, lead is potentially harmful, particularly when corrosion occurs and it starts to dissolve into the water source. The problem with lead is it has no taste or smell, so you may not notice it.
If you live in an old house it’s best to get your plumbing checked as the EPA stipulates the maximum contaminant level for lead in drinking water is zero. As lead is toxic, it can build up in your body over time and lead to persistent health problems.
Identifying Different Contaminations
It can be useful to identify the source of your water contamination before taking any steps to correct it. If you have a water filter, it may simply be time to change it, but if your pipes or water tanks are the problem, you’ll need to consider having your entire plumbing system redone.
Below are some common water contamination symptoms alongside their corresponding causes. The more you learn about these potentially hazardous impurities, the easier it will be to communicate with a professional plumber about what needs to be fixed.
● Reddish-brown stains on fixtures, laundry, or in water – Rust contamination or corrosion of metal pipes, often galvanized.
● Foul odor and flavor from water – Bacterial or mold contamination due to microbial activity.
● Black or gray colored water – Sulfide corrosion or black mold contamination. This may also be due to the presence of natural manganese.
● Blueish-green stains on fixtures – Copper corrosion or mold contamination.
Contaminated water is a serious issue that should never get ignored. If your home plumbing system has any cause for concern it’s time to contact a professional plumbing contractor.
The Final Word
A good plumbing system is one of those things you don’t want to skimp out on. For the sake of your health, your home, and the planet, updating your water pipes will result in a much cleaner, better quality, and sustainable plumbing system that you can safely use for decades to come.
Guest Contributor: Nina Sharpe