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UPDATED 3:25 PM: Folsom, California endures a 'pinhole leak apocalpyse' (3 Photos)

Copper water pipe leaks occurred in nearly 1,200 homes this year.

FOLSOM, California — The California city where Johnny Cash recorded live performances for his album At Folsom Prison has experienced the same kind of pinhole leaks that many Thunder Bay homeowners have seen in their water pipes this year.

On social media this summer, residents of Folsom dubbed the situation "a pinhole leak apocalpyse."

Nearly 1,200 homes in the community just east of Sacramento developed leaks in copper water pipes, resulting in numerous instances of severe flooding and thousands of dollars in damages.

It turned out the problem was likely due to a combination of the water's purity, a high pH level and the use of chlorine.

Now, Folsum hopes it has a solution.

Officials in the city of 80,000 were initially baffled, as no changes had been made to the water treatment process in the last five years.

They hired a consulting firm that worked with specialists to conduct a detailed forensic analysis of the water and some of the affected pipes.

They reported this month that the water supply meets all government standards.

However, the consultants found that the water's purity, combined with a pH above 9.0 – pH being a figure expressing the acidity or alkalinity of a solution on a scale on which 7 is neutral – and the use of chlorine, could contribute to pitting of copper pipe. 

Marcus Yasutake, Folsom's environmental and water resourcesr director, explained to local media that because the city's water is low in organic matter, "it will try to stabilize itself to become more in equilibrium. And what the water will do is physically pull ions or, in this case, copper from the copper pipe.” 

Yasutake said that leads to a pit in the pipe which then develops into a pinhole leak.

Thunder Bay began adding sodium hydroxide to its water system in 2018, making the water less acidic, in an effort to reduce corrosion in the lead pipes still in place in thousands of homes around the city.

The city's 2019 drinking water quality report showed the pH level ranged between 8.3 and 9.6 that year, and that the objective was 7.0 to 9.5.

A pH level below 7 is acidic, whereas a higher pH is more alkaline. 

After receiving reports of pinhole leaks around the city, officials announced last January that they would cease the use of sodium hydroxide, and that they would study alternatives.

The provincial environment ministry, meanwhile, said the chemical remained one of its approved options for mitigating corrosion.

Orthophosphate is another approved treatment.

It's been adopted by Toronto and numerous other cities, and it's what Folsom's consultants recently recommended.

The chemical forms a protective layer on the interior of copper pipe, and has been shown to inhibit pitting.

Folsom started adding orthophosphate to its water on Oct. 8. 

Yasutake told Tbnewswatch he doesn't expect to be able to assess the results of the intervention for another month or so.

Tbnewswatch reached out to City of Thunder Bay officials to determine if they are aware of the situation in the California city and whether they plan to follow up. 

A spokesperson issued the following statement Wednesday afternoon:   The review was public knowledge when the City announced it was taking the sodium hydroxide out of the water. The City is committed to ensuring that Thunder Bay's drinking water is safe for consumption through its review of the Corrosion Control Plan. The City has nothing further to offer in terms of further comment on the situation

City staff are expected to update members of city council on the status of their investigation in the coming weeks.

Gary Rinne

About the Author: Gary Rinne

Born and raised in Thunder Bay, Gary started part-time at Tbnewswatch in 2016 after retiring from the CBC
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