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Can Leaky Pipes Make You Sick?

Can Leaky Pipes Make You Sick?


Leaks in pipes and plumbing can cause more than just water damage and higher utility bills. In some cases, leaky pipes can actually pose health hazards by promoting bacterial growth and allowing contaminants to enter your water supply. This article looks at the potential risks of leaky pipes and how to address them.

Background on Waterborne Illness

Water that contains harmful levels of bacteria, viruses, parasites, and chemicals can cause waterborne illnesses if ingested. Symptoms may include:

  • Gastrointestinal issues like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea
  • Respiratory problems like sinus congestion, coughing, wheezing
  • Skin rashes and irritations
  • Headaches and fevers

Common culprits behind waterborne disease outbreaks include E. coli, Legionella, giardia, and cryptosporidium.

“Even small drips that go unnoticed can degrade water quality over time.”

How Leaks Can Lead to Contamination

Leaky pipes create potential pathways for contaminants to enter the water supply in a few key ways:

Backflow from Contaminated Sources

  • Pipes with cracks or loose fittings can pull in contaminated water through backflow, allowing it to mix with the drinking water. This is a particular concern with cross-connections to non-potable sources.

Loss of Water Pressure

  • Leaks can lead to drops in water pressure within plumbing. Low pressure makes it easier for contaminants to infiltrate through cracks in pipes or faulty valves and seals.

Microbial Growth

  • Stagnant pockets of water from leaks can allow microbes like bacteria and mold to multiply. These microbes can then contaminate water flowing through the adjacent pipes.

Sediment Buildup

  • Leaking water often carries sediment that can collect in pipes. This buildup of organic matter can serve as food for microbial growth.

Pipe Corrosion

  • Moisture from leaks can corrode pipes over time, creating more cracks and punctures for contaminants to enter.

Signs of Potential Contamination

Be on the lookout for the following signs that may indicate contaminated water:

  • Discolored or cloudy water
  • Unpleasant smells from taps and faucets
  • Metallic, salty, or chemical tastes
  • Staining on fixtures, sinks, tubs
  • Debris or sediment in water
  • Health issues after drinking water

Take immediate action if you notice any of the above symptoms. Additionally test your water 1-2 times per year as a precaution.

How to Prevent Leaks from Causing Health Issues

Here are smart tips to help safeguard your water quality:

Regularly Inspect Plumbing

  • Check pipes, joints, valves, seals for signs of corrosion, cracks, drips.
  • Watch for plumbing leaks, moisture near pipes, unexplained damp spots.

Replace Old or Damaged Pipes

  • Prioritize pipe segments prone to leaks due to age, wear, or faulty materials.

Install Backflow Preventers

Maintain Adequate Water Pressure

  • Keep pressure above 20 PSI. Install booster pumps if needed.

Disinfect Stagnant Pipes

  • Flush infrequently used pipes with chlorine to kill microbial growth.

Filter Water at Entry Points

  • Use point-of-entry filtration systems to catch contaminants.

Test Water Regularly

  • Do annual testing for bacteria, nitrates, lead, and other contaminants.

How Can I Identify and Fix Leaking Pipes to Prevent Sickness?

If you suspect pipe leakage at your home, take note of any unusual wet spots, mold growth, or musty odors. To identify the source of the leakage, inspect visible pipes for signs of corrosion, cracks, or loose fittings. Fixing leaking pipes promptly can prevent health issues caused by damp environments, such as respiratory problems and allergies. Pipe leakage explained can help you recognize the importance of regular maintenance and swift repairs to safeguard your well-being.

When to Call a Plumber

Contact a professional right away if you suspect any of the following:

  • Visible leaks, moisture near pipes
  • Discolored or foul-smelling water
  • Significant drops in water pressure
  • Backflow from cross-connections
  • Major loss of water when taps are turned off

Don’t take chances with potential water contamination in your home’s plumbing. Addressing leaks quickly can help avoid health issues.

Additional Resources

CDC on Waterborne Illness Prevention