Throughout the nearly four years since the Flint, Michigan, water crisis began, the Copper Development Association (CDA) has been working with city officials to replace dangerous lead water lines with copper lines.
Recently, PM interviewed CDA Vice President Andy Kireta Jr. about the organization’s efforts to improve water quality and advocate for copper piping across the U.S. This is what he had to say.
PM: What is your industry background and how did you get involved with CDA?
AK: My father and grandfather were both involved in the plumbing and piping trades, so I’ve been around the industry from an early age. I was educated as a mechanical engineer and have worked in the piping industry for almost 30 years.
First, as a design engineer in the nuclear industry working on mechanical and structural design of nuclear plant piping systems for an A/E firm. Then, in 1992 I joined CDA as a regional manager for piping systems, where I spent most of my time educating and assisting contractors and engineers on the design, installation and troubleshooting of copper piping systems and on representing copper in the various model plumbing and mechanical codes and standards bodies.
Over the years, I’ve been involved in nearly every aspect of the copper piping industry — market development, codes and standards, education and training, regulatory and policy action, technical research, as well as in nearly all other copper product areas in addition to piping.
PM: What is your role at CDA and what are some of your personal goals in that role?
AK: I am the vice president of market development for the CDA. I’m responsible for promoting the use of copper and copper alloy systems and products in building construction applications, including piping, mechanical, architectural and electrical systems as well as copper use in other products and markets.
Personally, my goals are to raise awareness for the benefits of copper when addressing issues such as deteriorating infrastructure and water quality, help the copper industry create new products and applications that lead to better buildings and healthier lives, and develop quality craftsmanship within the future skilled workforce.
PM: How has CDA or its members been involved in improving water quality throughout the U.S.?
AK: The water crisis in Flint unveiled a much larger infrastructure problem occurring across the country. In fact, between six and 10 million lead service lines are in need of replacement nationwide. CDA is working with individual water utilities and municipalities in lead-dense areas to provide credible, technical information on the advantages of using copper tube for water service line replacements. We are also providing assistance in making proper design and installation considerations to help ensure a long and successful service life.
Additionally, CDA has been educating members of Congress on the urgent need to address the country’s aging water infrastructure. One important facet of this education is to ensure that infrastructure funding includes water infrastructure, not just roads and bridges, and that water infrastructure legislation and funding include provisions to require replacement of the full lead service line — not just the utility or building owner’s portion while leaving the remainder of the lead line in the system. Research has shown that creating a ‘hybrid’ system by replacing sections with alternate materials can exacerbate lead leaching, at least in the short term, into drinking-water.
PM: How has CDA or its members been involved in the efforts to improve drinking water quality in Flint, Michigan?
AK: As Flint began moving from crisis mode to replacement mode, CDA worked with Flint Mayor Karen Weaver and FAST Start Initiative Coordinator Michael C. McDaniel to assist in their analysis of service line rehabilitation or replacement options to reduce and eliminate the contribution of lead from existing lead or galvanized steel service lines.
The copper industry banded together in 2017 to help Flint acquire nearly 200,000 feet of copper piping to support their goal of eliminating all lead service lines, on both the public and private side of the curb stop. We wanted Flint to be able to offer its residents a proven, durable material that would ensure the delivery of safe drinking water for at least another 100 years. CDA also offered technical advice and support as Flint embarked on its aggressive replacement program.
CDA is committed to helping America rebuild its aging water infrastructure. We will continue to provide technical guidance and educational resources wherever needed to ensure that copper piping is selected, designed, installed and operated properly every step of the way.
PM: What are the benefits of CDA membership?
AK: The primary benefit of CDA to our members and the entire copper value chain — from production and manufacture to end user — is that we bring together thought leaders across all copper segments to develop and market the best products for the systems and applications of today and tomorrow.
From piping systems to aerospace parts, subsea applications and healthcare materials that protect public health, we turn the benefits of over 800 copper alloys into solutions. This makes CDA a foremost resource on copper and copper alloy applications — knowledge and experience that is available not only to our members but to end-users of copper and copper alloy products and systems.
While members gain specific benefits like up-to-date market data and intelligence, codes and standards representation, and pre-competitive research, CDA strives to provide value to all in creating a safe, sustainable future.
PM: Where do you see the industry going in terms of improving drinking water quality?
AK: We’ve already discussed the industry’s role in improving drinking water quality by addressing the removal of lead service lines. I can’t stress enough that we can’t continue to kick the lead service line can down the road. Flint was a wakeup call and the time to act is now. We need to remove all lead service lines to eliminate the risk they continue to pose to drinking water quality and public health.
It would be a mistake to allow municipalities and building owners to simply make replacement choices based on lowest first cost. Despite trying to do the right thing economically, the material choice could lead to some unintended consequences, including premature system failure as well as potentially contaminating the drinking water. We are helping utilities and municipalities make important decisions based on protecting health and the long-term value of the underground infrastructure and defend those decisions to their ratepayers and tax payers.
The cost of a copper pipe may be three times that of a plastic one, but the material cost represents only about five percent of the cost of replacing an underground line, with most of the expense coming in the excavation process. However, copper is the only service line material that is 100% impermeable in the underground environment, thus preventing contamination from entering the water system through the wall of the pipe.
Copper is also the only service line material with proven performance over 75 or more years. And, copper maintains its value, returning 80 to 90 percent or more of its original cost when it is reclaimed and sold for recycling at the end of the system life. Lead service lines are immediate and addressable, so taking the right action now is a big step in eliminating a very real but discrete danger.
There are other water quality risks that in the long term are likely bigger in terms of public health. I think the biggest could very well be pathogen growth due to the increasing dwell time of water in distribution systems. Decreasing population, increasing water efficiency and water saving measures, oversized piping systems and poor material decisions all combine to create this problem. Decreasing population is beyond our immediate control. There is no way to argue that increased water efficiency and water savings are not good things — there is only so much clean water to go around.
We need to focus on improving water system design, sizing and materials selection to address this concern. CDA’s role in this has been in collaborating and funding research on the effect that materials might play in either facilitating or preventing pathogen growth. For thousands of years, copper’s germ-fighting properties have been effectively used as a passive defense against the growth and proliferation of waterborne pathogens, like Legionella. Today’s researchers are finding that this effect was real, and that the proliferation of alternative materials in piping and plumbing components may be contributing to pathogen growth and water quality challenges.
PM: How is CDA working to spread the word about the benefits of choosing copper piping?
AK: CDA is building relationships with water utilities and municipalities with lead service lines to provide technical guidance and educational resources to ensure that copper piping is properly designed, installed and operated.
We are committed to helping America rebuild its aging water infrastructure. We also launched www.copperservicelines.org to aid decision makers, whether it be municipality leaders or homeowners, as an educational resource about the benefits of selecting copper for service line replacement programs.
Besides service lines, we continue to offer the latest information on copper piping systems on www.copper.org as well as in the CDA Copper Tube Handbook, available on our website or as a mobile app in the Apple and Google Play Stores.
Most importantly, CDA engages everyday with contractors, engineers, code officials, product innovators, thought leaders and everyday homeowners on how copper products and systems can benefit them, and how to select, install and operate them properly.
PM: I’ve noticed CDA is stepping up its online offerings lately, including publishing new training videos — what are your goals with that?
AK: The plumbing industry has seen a resurgence over the years in new-construction jobs requiring more skilled laborers to handle the workload. With copper being one of the most widely used materials in plumbing and piping systems across North America, and with new copper joining methods and materials being offered, it is imperative for plumbers to know every type of joining method and to be confident that they can tackle tough piping applications in the field.
We continue to offer face-to-face installation training to journeyman and apprenticeship programs, both union and merit shop, across North America. We felt CDA needed to expand that so that installers had immediate access to the information when they were on the job with the tools in their hand. Our how-to videos are designed to give anyone, from the seasoned professional looking for a refresher, to the DIY homeowner, access to the correct copper installation techniques directly from their smartphone.
PM: What is CDA doing to draw fresh talent to the trades?
AK: It's really important to understand that as we look at the future of our education system in the U.S. that going from high school into a four-year college and beyond is not the only path, and that if we force everyone down that path, we're not going to have the economy, the strength, and the success of a country that we would really like to have or expect.
CDA regularly visits United Association (UA) local unions, PHCC chapters, vocational school programs and contractor firms to participate in apprenticeship programs, conduct training courses and co-host installation competitions. In doing so, we are trying to make the piping skilled trades industry accessible, support trade and training organizations, promote the value of skilled trades careers, and inspire the next generation of potential tradesman on the value and necessity of the piping trades to better buildings, better lives and better futures.
PM: What is your No. 1 organizational goal for the rest of 2018?
AK: Our number one goal for 2018 is to ensure that water service line replacements are included in plans to restore America’s failing infrastructure — and that copper plays a key role in making the next generation of water infrastructure safe, healthy and secure for many years to come.
This article was originally titled “Flint ‘was a wakeup call’ for the industry” in the March 2018 print edition of Plumbing & Mechanical.