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Concrete Pipes Don't Live Up to the Hype

Jun 2013

A recent article in the Washington Post reveals that suburbs around Washington, D.C. have some of the most problematic water infrastructure in the country, second only to Detroit.

The Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC) says the problem lies in the use of pre-stressed concrete cylinder pipe (PCCP). Most of WSSC’s 350 miles of concrete pipes were installed in the 1970s and '80s and are failing long before their projected 100-year lifespan. In fact, nine PCCP breaks have occurred since 1996 and in several cases resulted in serious damage. In 2008 a concrete main exploded under intense internal pressure, resulting in a large crater that swallowed motorists who had to be rescued by boat and helicopter. Another incident in 2011 blew out the doors and walls of an office park.

As the Conference of Mayors and other recent reports have indicated, failing water infrastructure is a growing problem that is only adding additional costs to taxpayers. WSSC representatives have pointed to such failures as the reason for a 50-percent rate hike in the past six years.

Additionally, a recent EPA report estimated $384 billion would need to be invested over the next 20 years to ensure the nation can keep delivering safe drinking water. The Unibell PVC Pipe Association has estimated the cost of water main breaks since 2000 at more than $546 billion. The VI is continuing its work to advocate for the use of quality, durable PVC pipes to protect the nation’s water infrastructure for decades to come. WSSC could not be reached for comment.