Since the dawn of indoor plumbing there has been a question of what to use for water piping. Early water pipes were often made from lead. Galvanized steel corrodes and has the potential to collect lead on its inner walls. Copper water piping is connected with solder that has lead in it. Today we have PEX plastic water pipes. With PEX you have little to no concern of there being any lead in your water pipes of your home. But is PEX safe?
The use of PEX water piping has dramatically increased in the last handful of years and continues to increase exponentially. It’s versatile, easy to work with, it costs less than copper and is supposed to last longer than copper or steel. PEX is a form HDPE (high density polyethelene) also know as cross linked polyethylene tubing. In today’s building world it’s being used for heating and cooling systems, insulation for wiring, natural gas lines, sewage and waste systems and also for potable drinking water. However, with its increased use comes the question, is PEX safe to use? There has been an increased spotlight on the use of plastics for drinking vessels over the past few years. The use of BPA in plastics has come under fire for its adverse health affects and although PEX does not contain BPA it contains a number of other chemicals.
I guess I’m naive but I assumed that products that PEX water piping was put through a highly rigorous set of safety tests. However, according to Andrew Whelton, an assistant professor in Purdue University’s Lyles School of Civil Engineering and Division of Environmental and Ecological Engineering “Little is known about the degree to which plastic pipes sold in the U.S. affect drinking water quality”. For right now it appears that the jury is still out on the possible hazardous affects of PEX water piping. There doesn’t appear to be any evidence that suggests that a person should be concerned about PEX being hazardous. But, there isn’t enough evidence to suggest that it’s completely safe either.
At this point we don’t know the true affects of PEX. The results are unfortunately “inconclusive”. It’s safe to say that the more we ask the question about PEX’s safety the more likely it will be that we will get an answer to that very question. Until we get a conclusive answer the best advice I can give is “use with caution”.