A 30-inch diameter 160-year-old cast iron pipe was recently excavated and retired from gas service in Chicago, Illinois. Installed in 1859, this pipeline provided Chicago’s residents, fewer than 112,000 at the time, with reliable lighting at night. As the years passed, this cast iron pipe continued to provide dependable gas service in the tough urban environment of downtown Chicago.
“Many in today’s water industry may not know that when cast iron pipe first became widely available, it was used for both gas and water service,” said Maury D. Gaston, manager of Marketing Services for AMERICAN Ductile Iron Pipe and chairman of the Alabama Iron and Steel Council. “In fact, AMERICAN’s first shipment of cast iron pipe in 1906 was to Atlanta to fuel gas lights, first in streets and then in homes. At the same time, we were providing cast iron pipe for water service, improving public health and quality of life.”
Increased gas pressures and decreased sizes needed for service lines led to steel pipe becoming the common material used for natural gas transmission. “It’s no coincidence that today AMERICAN also makes high-frequency-welded steel pipe for use in natural gas and oil pipelines,” Gaston said.
Cast iron pipe is the predecessor to modern ductile iron. Ductile iron is strong, resilient and sustainable, making it an ideal pipe material. Through the years, many other pipe materials have appeared on the scene but have faded for a variety of reasons.
“Iron pipe, first as cast iron and now as modern ductile iron, has stood the test of time. For more than 160 years here in the U.S. and for three centuries in Europe, iron pipe has provided dependable, sustainable and resilient service for a variety of utilities.” – Maury D. Gaston
“We’ve seen other pipe materials come along – lead, pre-stressed concrete cylinder and asbestos-cement to name a few,” Gaston said. “With time and research, each of these was shown to have vulnerabilities and be a lesser choice for water delivery. Today, PVC has become a popular choice because it’s less expensive, light weight and supposedly corrosion resistant. But what do we know about PVC’s vulnerability to fatigue and to corrosion by sunlight? Studies from the Ductile Iron Pipe Research Association (DIPRA) show that PVC is sensitive to ambient temperatures and can lose up to 34% of its impact strength after about one year of exposure to sunlight. In addition, and perhaps most important, we are still learning about PVC’s reactions between vinyl chlorides and our drinking water.
“Iron pipe, first as cast iron and now as modern ductile iron, has stood the test of time,” Gaston said. “For more than 160 years here in the U.S. and for three centuries in Europe, iron pipe has provided dependable, sustainable and resilient service for a variety of utilities.”
According to DIPRA, more than 600 U.S. water utilities have iron pipe that has been in continuous service for more than 100 years. Other benefits of ductile iron pipe include: it’s made from recyclable content and is itself a 100% recyclable material; it requires very little maintenance once installed; and its increased flow capacity leads to significant energy savings during the pipe’s lifetime in service. To learn more about iron pipe – its strength, durability and more – visit www.american-usa.com or www.dipra.org.
Learn more about the 160-year cast iron pipeline in this Chicago Tribune article or this Fox News article with video.