Editor's Log: Under Siege

By Robert carpenter, Editor | May 2011, Vol. 66 No. 5

When considering the condition of America’s underground sewer and water infrastructure, there are several constants. For those in the know, the word ‘failing’ tops the list, closely followed by a perpetual dearth of funding.

The glimmer of hope over the past couple of decades has been the steady evolution of trenchless or substantially trenchless rehabilitation technologies that have proved safe, effective and increasingly cost effective. Leading the way has been the development of cured-in-place pipe (CIPP) technologies and pipebursting methods. For countless cities around the U.S. and indeed, the world, these rehab and replacement methods have proved life savers for municipalities continuously battling tight budgets, consent decrees, public health concerns, ruptured pipe emergencies and more.

But certain recent developments have made these technologies the subject of attacks without scientific justification. For pipebursting, it has become a question of trying to deflect blame. For CIPP, the principal resin used by industry is in danger of being labeled as ‘reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.’ Both technologies are either accused or facing an unnecessary and pointless panic attack upon the marketplace.

The devastating gas explosion last year in San Bruno, CA, first raised the specter of pipebursting as a possible cause of this particular gas pipe deterioration. But further investigation revealed that the pipebursting project had been installed properly and did not cause an adverse impact upon the gas pipe. Even the owning company’s inspectors had signed off on the project. The blame seemed to fall upon seam-welded pipe and failure by the owners to repair the known problem area in a timely fashion.

But as evidence of possible negligence began to mount, the owners recently reversed their position and suggested that pipebursting could still have been the cause. The National Transportation Safety Board’s preliminary reports, however, found no reason to implicate pipebursting as a cause contributing to the explosion.

The cured-in-place pipe industry has a different issue but no less threatening. Apparently, a single individual’s concern raised to the right government agency has led to a potential decree that the essential chemical used for resins, specifically styrene, could be designated as ‘reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen’ by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) – basically implying that styrene could be a cause of cancer in humans.