Recovering old pipework and reducing contamination

In UK, the Environment Agency issue Regulatory Position Statements (RPS) which must be adhered to when dealing with decommissioned pipes and old pipework (RPS 8). Decommissioned pipes are considered environmental waste if left in the ground unless certain procedures are followed:

šYour activity meets the description set out in this RPS

šYou comply with the conditions set out in this RPS

šYour activity does not (and is not likely to) cause environmental pollution or harm human health.

This environmental waste also has a scrap value if recovered for recycling which reduces costs.


Why this is important?


Decommissioned pipes are a potential source of contamination to the surrounding ground, and in the long term to the water table, as well as contributing to environmental pollution. This could be in the form of metal pipe corrosion or lead contamination from the lead pipe.

If RPS guidelines are not followed, the Environment Agency has the authority to take action against a company responsible for the pipework and the company responsible for its safe decommissioning.

If left unchecked?

The environmental pollution aspect is significant and leaving them in the ground also undoes the good work of taking faulty, under-performing or dangerous pipes out of commission.



Pipe pulling removes the old pipework from the ground thereby eliminating the potential environmental pollution, as well as enabling the recycling and scrap value recovery of the old pipe.

Decommissioning of old pipes would not then be bound by the RPS8 rules.

In the United States, it is estimated there are around 7 million lead pipes, totalling 65,000 miles of lead. If the average size of lead pipe is ¾” (internal bore), this has a specification of ¾” 11lbs lead pipe.

One foot of lead pipe weighs 11 lbs or 5 kgs and is 15 metres in length, this equates to an astronomical 3.8billion lbs of lead (1.72 million tonnes). The average scrap value of lead is approx. US$ 0.75 per lbs (£1,350 per tonne). Therefore, potential scrap value of lead pipe in US is $2.5 – 3bn.

Do we want to leave this in the ground to pollute the environment when it is worth almost US$3bn in scrap value alone?

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