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Derelict water pipes pose health risks : THL

Published : 15 May 2019, 21:45

Updated : 16 May 2019, 08:29

  DF Report

Photo Source: THL.

The poor condition of water supply pipeline network may cause contamination of ground water, posing health risk to people, says the National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL).

Every year, situations occur in Finland where domestic water becomes contaminated, potentially causing an outbreak.

While most of these situations are triggered by contamination in ground water from which the drinking water is originating, the role of pipeline networks as the cause of waterborne outbreaks and other problems is increasing, said a THL press release on Wednesday.

The reason for this is the poor condition of water pipes due to maintenance deficiency.

Before the early 2010s, no outbreak associated with ageing of drinking water distribution networks was known in Finland. According to the statistics kept by THL, dozens of cases of water supply being contaminated by ageing distribution networks have been recorded over the last 20 years.

In the last five years, rundown pipeline system and resulting water contamination have also resulted in outbreaks. In a worst-case scenario, as many as thousands of people may become ill in a single outbreak.

“The problem with an ageing network is that adequate repairs are not carried out in the pipeline system. From the perspective of health threats, this situation may become alarming if the maintenance needs are not taken seriously,” said THL Chief Researcher Ilkka Miettinen.

The life span of water pipes is the sum of many factors, and the repair needs cannot be assessed based on the age of the pipes alone. Other relevant factors include the material and year of manufacturing of the pipes, soil composition, the number of pressure surges, and workmanship of the installation.

“Assessing the renewing needs of pipeline systems is extremely difficult. One indicator is the number of leaks and pipe ruptures found in the network. If old water pipes have already been identified as the cause of network contamination on one occasion, this is another warning signal,” Miettinen added.

Municipalities and water supply plants carry the responsibility for water supply networks. They should make greater investments in renewing the networks. New research evidence may also be needed for prioritising repairs.

“An ageing network is a hidden problem that is gradually becoming a serious health threat. The safest option in terms of people’s health would be renewing ageing water pipes in time,” said Miettinen.