Water utilities aim to maintain a high standard of water quality and to protect public drinking water from any internal and external contaminates. All piping systems have some potential for contamination from external agents through permeation of gaskets, jointed connections or permeation through the pipe wall. Literature suggests that permeation of organic chemicals and hydrocarbons through polyethylene pipe is possible, while actual cases of soil contaminated hydrocarbon permeation are extremely rare. Hydrocarbons do not degrade polyethylene but can diffuse through the wall of the pipe in areas of gross contamination. The exterior contact may affect sidewall fusions and or butt fusions; thus, after polyethylene pipes have been exposed to grossly contaminated soils, mechanical connections may be preferred. There are several ways to address gross hydrocarbon contamination of soil surrounding the pipe including removal and replacement of the contaminated soil with good clean soil of Class I or Class II materials, sleeving the pipe and rerouting the pipe around the contaminated area.

HDPE pipes are used extensively in municipal water applications throughout Europe and the United Kingdom, boasting the lowest failure rates of any piping material. HDPE pipes contain additives which protect the pipe from the oxidizing effects of disinfectants. At Performance Pipe, our HDPE water pipes meet AWWA requirements and are evaluated to the toxicological requirements of NSF/ANSI 61. A recent study by Jana Laboratories examined the projected lifespan of polyethylene pipe under typical operating conditions at utilities in Indiana, Florida, North Carolina and California. Their findings indicate a life expectancy greater than 100 years for most typical applications in the US and Canada. Read Jana Laboratories’ report, Impact of Potable Water Disinfectants on PE Pipe.

Polyethylene piping has been safely used in thousands of applications. However, there are general precautions that should be observed when using any product. In this respect, polyethylene piping is no different. Performance Pipe’s recommends the following reading for a more detailed list of cautions and safety features.

1. The Plastic Pipe Institute Handbook of Polyethylene Pipe, Chapter
2. Inspections, Tests and Safety Features.
3. The Performance Pipe Field Handbook.
4. Pipe Loading/Unloading-Truck Driver Safety Video

A large body of technical information related to the design and installation of polyethylene pipe is available on the Plastics Pipe Institute’s website ( and on this website. Additional information on polyethylene pipe including case history information is available at the PE Alliance site (