Health and safety of plastic pipes

What are the European quality/safety standards relating to plastic pipes?

General requirements ensuring hygienic performance for plastic pipes are laid down in the European Union (EU) legislation and specific applications are covered by EN and ISO standards which specify pressures and temperature ranges.  The relevant EU standards are displayed in the marking on the pipes and fittings.

All Hot & Cold plastic pipe systems bear the local hygienic approvals according to the national legislation in every EU Member State.

For an overview of the standards used for the design of plastic pipe systems, please consult the relevant page of the TEPPFA website. For more details, please check the relevant European standard (EN-806) and ISO standards.

 

Do plastic pipes contain any additives that can leach out into drinking water?

As with pipes made from any material, various additives are used in the manufacture of plastic pipes in addition to the base material that the pipe is made of.  These may be processing aids, like heat stabilisers and lubricants; aesthetic components like pigments or in-service performance aids such as fire retardants or anti-mould inhibitors.  

Once processed into the finished product, these additives are “locked” into the molecular matrix of the product and under normal prescribed conditions of usage cannot leach out at a level which could pose a significantly health hazard. All pipes are manufactured to be compliant in their relevant application with the statutory requirements ensuring hygienic performance for plastic pipes, as well as with the European Union (EU) legislation, EN and ISO standards. The relevant EU standards are displayed in the marking on all pipes and fittings. Polymer resins and associated additives used to produce plastic pipes are subject to the EU REACH legislation which has been developed to ensure a high level of protection for human health and the environment from the chemical components of products.

 

Are heavy metals like lead still used as stabilising additives in some plastic pipes?

Inexpensive and highly efficient stabilisers based on the heavy metals cadmium and lead were used extensively in PVC formulations up until the year 2000.  Because these substances were immobilized in the plastic matrix (in much the same way as they are within non-plastics glass products made from lead crystal), they were not released in any way during the service life of the articles. Extensive risk assessments on lead additives showed no risk for product users. However concerned mainly about the potential risk to workers in the industry handling heavy-metal based substances during manufacture, the European industry committed in 2000 to completely eliminate the use of cadmium-based stabilisers with immediate effect and to replace the use of lead stabilisers by 2015. Based on intensive effort and significant investment, the first interim target of a 15 percent reduction was achieved in 2004 - one year ahead of the original schedule. By 2010 the phase out had reached 50% and the industry is on schedule to complete eliminate the use of lead of stabilisers in Europe by 2015.

 

Will the new REACH directive impact on the production of plastic pipes?

Products made from any material on sale in the EU are affected by REACH (the EU Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemical substances law which entered into force on 1 June 2007).

The aim of REACH is to improve the protection of human health and the environment through the better and earlier identification of the intrinsic properties of chemical substances. The REACH Regulation requires industry to ensure that any substance they incorporate into their products has been adequately tested, is fit for purpose and is handled safely through a product’s lifecycle. Where any chemical is deemed to pose a risk in its use it will be required to be replaced by a suitable alternative.

 

What happens to plastic pipes in building fires?

In assessing the performance of products in the event of building fires two separate performance characteristics are evaluated, Reaction to fire and Resistance to fire. Reaction to fire evaluates the contribution of the product to the fire growth, whereas Resistance to fire evaluates the product ability to prevent fire propagation.

Reaction to Fire Classification
The implementation of a single classification system across the EU member states, the European Fire Classification of Construction Products and Building Elements using data from reaction to fire tests (Euroclasses as defined in EN 13501-1) has introduced a common method for describing and comparing the Reaction to Fire performance of construction products, also applicable to plastic pipes.  
Seven reaction to Fire classification levels have been defined – A1, A2, B, C, D, E and F. Additional criteria provide information on a product’s tendency to produce smoke ( -s) and burning droplets or particles ( -d ), as displayed in the table below.      

Plastic Material and reaction to fire

The reaction to fire of plastic pipes differs depending on the type of plastic material.  Some, like PVC-U and PVC-C can achieve the best ranking achievable for plastic pipes,  according to this classification (class B), thanks to their inherently self-extinguishing property. Whilst others may be flammable and have other classifications. Please refer to the manufacturer’s information.

Resistance to fire and Fire Safety

Fire safety requirements applicable to plastic and non-plastic pipes are covered by national regulations, which deal with both the properties of the product (reaction to fire) and the design and installation aspects impacting the performance of the building as regard to resistance to fire. 

There are generally no specific limitations to using plastic pipe systems in buildings, in respect of their reaction to fire, provided that the systems have been selected, designed and installed in line with the relevant national codes of practice and other specific regulations, which may in particular include the provision of fire sleeves for penetrations through firewalls as regard to resistance to fire.

For more information on fire protection, specific national regulations should be consulted.