Is it true that in the mid-90s, there was a class action lawsuit for piping failures in North America?
Yes, the defendant group was forced to spend a great deal of money defending itself against claims alleging defects in “Polybutylene plumbing systems.” The complaints, to the extent that they were valid at all, centred almost entirely around products made from plastics other than Polybutene-1, produced by other raw material suppliers for the manufacture of pipe fittings. These companies were co-defendants in this litigation.
No such experience of failure has occurred in the last 50 years that Polybutene-1 plumbing products have been used in Europe and Asia. The PBPSA believes that properly manufactured and installed pipe and fittings made from Polybutene-1 grades will meet all national and international standards and are technically the best choice for hot and cold pressurised piping for plumbing and heating applications Nevertheless, in view of the outcome of the U.S. litigation process against the co-defendants, PBPSA members have taken the decision not to sell the Polybutene-1 material or piping systems products into the North American market.
What happened in the US legal case?
The stated “Polybutylene plumbing systems” mentioned in the US legal case were pipes made from Polybutene joined to fittings made from acetal resin. Premature failures were caused by the use of acetal fittings and poor joint assembly techniques. Acetal is not suitable for use in the transportation of hot water with a high chlorine concentration, however PB-1 performs well under similar conditions.
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How is it that Polybutene-1 piping systems delivered long-term performance in one market – and received complaints in another?
In the European and Asian markets for PB-1, the combination of pipe and fittings to produce a sustainable linkage is considered of paramount importance for the long-life reliability and performance of piping systems. It appears that in the United States during the 1980’s and 1990’s the same stringent emphasis was not placed on the combined compatibility and performance of pipe and fittings as it was elsewhere.
Whether the jointing process in the manufacture of fittings (PB-1-to-PB-1, or PB-1-to-metal), jointing of pre-fabricated sections in the workshop, or jointing made on site – there are four possibilities for joining PB-1 pipes with fittings. These are: compression, socket fusion, electrofusion, and push-fit plumbing systems. Also for large diameter pipes there is butt fusion. The combination of materials and jointing method must be correct to make a sustainable linkage for the intended purpose.
Are Polybutene-1 pipes banned in the U.S.?
There is no U.S. ban on the use of Polybutene-1 for piping systems, but PBPSA members have taken the decision not to sell PB-1 materials or products in North America in view of the outcome of the previous US litigation process.
How long have pipe and fittings made from Polybutene-1 been used in plumbing applications?
Polybutene-1 has been successfully used for 50 years in heating pipe applications and for over 30 years in potable water applications.
How quickly is the Polybutene-1 pipe and fittings market growing?
At PBPSA, we feel it is only a matter of time before thermoplastic products replace traditional materials like copper and steel in the majority of heating and plumbing pipe applications. The process is evolutionary – copper replaced lead in the 1950s, and now plastic materials are providing viable alternatives to copper. This evolution is taking place at different rates in different countries. In Switzerland, the penetration of plastics is approaching 80%, whereas in France it is less than 20%, and taking Europe as a whole, 50% of the market is still available for substitution, with Polybutene-1 recognised as technically, the preferred material of choice. Our growth expectations for the Polybutene-1 pipe and fittings market are therefore high.
I've been using copper pipe and fittings all my life. Why should I change?
Sometimes it is difficult to recognise the benefits of change. There is no doubt that copper plumbing was the material of choice for several decades. Plumbers in the 1950s were loath to change from sweating lead joints; however we are now in the era of plastics, which are versatile materials and offer new solutions and advantages in many fields. The choice is yours - but the state-of-the-art and technology advancements are firmly with plastics systems – don’t be left out in the cold!
Are Polybutene-1 piping systems as hygienic as traditional metal products?
We are convinced that Polybutene-1 systems are hygienically superior to traditional metal products. Corrosion in metal pipes releases the chemical products of corrosion into the water supply. Polybutene-1 does not corrode. No fluxes, greases or solder are used when installing Polybutene-1 systems. The additives, such as antioxidants and pigments used in the manufacture of Polybutene-1 pipe grade material, are approved for use in contact with foodstuffs. Polybutene-1 piping systems therefore have excellent hygienic properties and are very suitable for the transport of potable water.
How easy is it to install Polybutene-1 plumbing systems?
In some markets, Polybutene-1 piping is known as ‘the plumber’s flexible friend’. Its flexibility combined with excellent pressure resistance at high temperatures make it very easy to work with. This, together with the development of new jointing techniques applicable to PB-1 products and specialised piping systems, provides distinct installation and long-term service advantages over traditional materials.
Is Polybutene-1 the same product as Polybutylene?
Yes, Polybutene-1 is often referred to as PB, PB-1 or Polybutylene. Polybutene-1, however, is chemically a more accurate way of describing the raw material. The name Polybutylene was commonly used in the United States, but in Europe some confusion arose with another material called Polyisobutylene, which also was often referred to as Polybutylene. Polyisobutylene is in fact used in the manufacture of chewing gum! Consequently it was decided to use the more chemically accurate name of Polybutene-1.
If Polybutene-1 is not new, why did it take this long to be widely used in piping installations?
Although Polybutene has been successfully utilised for pressure piping applications since the mid 1960s, the availability of raw material was limited to one 30 kt/a plant in the United States and a small production capacity in Japan.
In 2003, a new process technology 45 kt Polybutene-1 plant was commissioned in The Netherlands which was later expanded to over 65 kt output. This plant is now the largest producer of PB-1 and supplies many of the largest PB-1 piping systems manufacturers worldwide.
Where can I get more information about the comparative cost of Polybutene-1 piping systems?
Polybutene-1 piping systems are competitively priced and should provide economies for the installer in terms of ease of installation and labour costs. In addition, due to PB-1's flexibility, ability for pre-fabrication and lightweight, valuable downtime for industry and business is considerably reduced compared to traditional materials when installing PB-1 piping systems. For specific information however, it will be necessary to contact the manufacturers of the various systems. Visit the Contact page, where you will be able to access any of the PBPSA members’ sites to obtain assistance with enquiries on cost, installation practice and review of project specifications.