In the opinion of some, the use of galvanized iron for water pipes, conveying water for drinking and culinary purposes, is injurious. Others take opposite ground in regard to this matter, and express themselves strongly in favor of such pipes. Our opinion upon the question has been asked by parties interested. The use of zinc as a coating for the surface of iron pipes is not merely mechanical. Being more readily oxidizable than iron it produces, an electric state in the latter metal which protects parts not covered perfectly as well as other portions of the pipe. The oxide which forms upon zinc is insoluble in ] pure water. Acids dissolve it readily, and when hydrated, as is the case in water pipes, solutions of the caustic fixed alkalies and solutions of ammonia will dissolve it. Whether the oxide which forms upon the surface of galvanized iron pipes will be dissolved, depends therefore entirely on the character of the water, flowing through them. Rain water contains more or less ammonia when first precipitated. The oxide upon a galvanized iron roof would of course be dissolved to a certain extent, during a rain storm, a fact that has been noticed in connection not only with this material but with roofs of sheet zinc. It is probably rare that water does not contain traces of free ammonia, or salts, the acid of which has a greater affinity for the oxide of zinc than the base with which it is combined. In such cases we should expect to detect traces of the zinc in water which has remained for any length of time in the pipes. There are waters, doubtless, which could be passed through such pipes without the slightest danger of becoming charged with the poisonous oxide, and before their adoption an examination and analysis of the water should be made. But while we have no doubt that in many cases, it would not be proper to employ galvanized iron pipes, we do not j think that in a large majority of cases, the possible evils which attend their use, would be likely to prove serious. A great deal of exaggeration is to be expected upon the part of those who deal in pipes of other materials, and whoso interest it is, to excite the fears of the public in regard to any wares that damage thoir particular trade. People are too apt to become excited by newspaper statements upon sucli subjects as these, and alarm themselves needlessly. If the fact exists that water flowing through galvanized iron pipes is impregnated with zinc, a simple chemical test by a competent person will readily determine it. All metallic pipes in use are open to some objections. A great deal has been said upon the dangar of using lead pipes, but the inj ury that has resulted from their use has undoubtedly been over-estimated. Lead poisoning is by far more subtle than zinc poisoning, and as its effects may follow without premonitory symptoms of sufficient extent to excite suspicion, we think them fully as dangerous as galvanized iron pipes under most circumstances. A material for water pipes, cheap, durable, and capable of resisting the chemical action of all waters fit for household use is a long sought for desideratum. Until it is found we must do the best we can with such materials as we possess. Glass lias been proposed and used to a considerable extent, but there are practical difficulties, which will probably prevent its ever being generally adopted. The matter may be summed up by saying that the circumstances of any particular case can only determine whether galvanized iron pipes, are safe or otherwise. For most cases we think their use admissible.
This article was originally published with the title "Galvanized Iron Water Pipes" in Scientific American 20, 18, 282 (May 1869)