Puzzling leaks in water pipes

Costly complaints: Carroll, Washington suburbs seek solutions to epidemic of pinhole problems.

April 13, 2001

MYSTERIOUS holes in pipes are leaking water -- and money -- from hundreds of South Carroll homes. The same thing is happening in Montgomery and Prince George's counties.

The cause is unknown, despite abundant theories and numerous tests. But the common threads are public water treatment plants and copper water pipes.

Carroll County is taking aggressive steps to solve the aggravating, costly problem.

Surveys were sent to 7,000 customers of the Freedom water plant, asking about their plumbing histories and leak experiences.

An anti-corrosive chemical was recently added to the plant's treatment process, to promote a protective coating inside the copper pipes. The county is working with the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission on other solutions, since the corrosion inhibitor may not be the final answer.

More than 350 cases of leaky outside pipes have been noted by Carroll in two years, but many more instances of interior pipe failures are unrecorded.

A big difficulty is the variety of "natural" chemicals in raw water and those added by treatment plants to make the finished product safe and potable. Another is the subtle changes in water quality and composition as it travels through miles of different pipes.

Summer water restrictions are always a concern of South Carroll residents. But pinholes in water pipes are a more costly problem, and one less easily solved.

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