Norwegian Institute of Public Health

Drinking water from plastic pipes - is it harmful?

Pipe-in-pipe systems are now commonly used to distribute water in many homes. The inner pipe for drinking water is made of a plastic called cross-linked polyethylene (PEX). Are these pipes harmful to health and do they affect the taste and odour of drinking water?

Previous international studies have shown that plastic pipes can release substances that give an unwanted taste and odour to drinking water. It has also been suggested that some of these substances may be carcinogenic.

The aim of the study by the Norwegian Institute of Public Health was to investigate whether leakage products from these pipes are harmful to health and if they affect the taste and odour of drinking water. These leakage products consist of residues of additives used during production to give plastic pipes their desired properties, as well as any susbsequent breakdown products.

The study showed:

•There are no health risks associated with drinking water from PEX pipes
•A few types of PEX-pipe may cause prolonged undesirable taste and odour if the water remains in pipes over time
•Although the taste and odour usually dissipate with use, water from two of the PEX types still had an unpleasant smell and taste after a year
•The level of volatile organic compounds that leaked from new PEX pipes was generally low
•The level was further reduced with use
•No correlation was found between production method and leaking products