History's lessons should be heeded
Plumbing has been in use since ancient times. The Romans seem to often get credit for "inventing" plumbing. The Roman aqueducts are renown. Yet many ancient civilizations, Greek, Persian and Chinese for instance, did in fact have public water systems. What is historically notable to the ancient Romans is the use of lead plumbing. The word plumbing is derived from the Latin word for lead, plumbum. A controversial theory as to the decline of the Roman empire has been blamed on lead plumbing and the use of lead in eating and drinking vessels. The ancients did recognized that lead had a detrimental effect on people. Dioscorides, a Greek physician who lived in the 1st century CE, wrote that lead makes the mind "give way".
With such a long, well documented history of detrimental health effects, one would think modern man would steer clear of lead. So it may be hard to fathom why lead has continued to be used in many products throughout history. The most notorious in modern times being lead based paints. Interestingly lead paint was banned by the League of Nations in 1922, with the U.S. refusing to adopt.
Like the ancient Romans, lead pipes have been manufactured and used for plumbing in the United States. Typically I will find lead domestic waste pipes still in use in older homes. The toilet connection is the most common.
Lead pipes have a distinctive sweeping bend. Lead is very malleable, a property that made it so attractive for pipes. The connection is also unique. A bulbous, egg shaped joint.
During a recent home inspection, I did a double take when I saw the distinct, oval connection of a lead pipe on the main water supply pipe. Astoundingly, upon closer examination, I found that the pipe was indeed lead. One has to wonder why lead would have been used for this purpose with so much historical knowledge as to its detrimental health effects. None the less, lead water supply pipes were quite common at one time.
The repair will require the pipe to be removed from its connection at the street to the house. A fairly large and expensive job. Certainly not nearly as costly as lead poisoning. An expense that can not be calculated.
History teaches only if we are willing to heed the lessons.