Accelerated Lead Pipe Scale-buildup (ALPS)

More than 18 million people in the US are currently at risk of suffering from lead poisoning due to the high amounts of lead in their drinking water. This is usually contained through the slow and natural development of a scale in lead pipes; however, depending on the scale composition and water quality, this scale may dissolve, exposing the population to the deleterious health effects of lead. Once the scale dissolves, it takes years for it to form again, causing well known health crisis like that in Flint, MI.

We propose a novel, fast and cost-effective technology to solve this problem, which we termed ALPS (Accelerated Lead Pipe Scalebuildup), an electrochemical method that accelerates the development of a protective scale in lead pipes using fundamental electrochemical principles. By providing an effective and accessible method for controlling lead in drinking water, ALPS will prevent health hazards like that of Flint, MI from happening again, and will enable access to clean drinking water in impoverished communities worldwide that cannot afford replacing lead pipes.

How ALPS works

The underlying principle in ALPS is that, when lead is subject to an electric potential, different corrosion products are formed at different voltages, some of which are less soluble than others. In the presence of phosphates and under normal water quality conditions, a voltage of around 1V will favor the production of insoluble lead phosphates, which deposit on the walls of the pipe. This process creates a protective scale within hours, unlike the natural process of scale formation, which takes years.

If successful, we envision that ALPS will be used as a first response tool when lead leaching events occur, such as the one in Flint, MI. We estimate that the process will cost $10 per meter of treated pipe instead of the $150-300 of pipe replacement, making ALPS an affordable tool to protect vulnerable communities from toxic levels of lead in their drinking water

ALPS in the media