In order to assess the human exposure risks from the release of contaminants from water pipes made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), experiments were carried out by subjecting the PVC pipe material to burning and leaching conditions followed by analysis of the emission and leachate samples. The emissions of burning pipes were analyzed by both infrared spectrometry and gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS). The emission test results indicate the presence of chlorinated components including chlorine dioxide, methyl chloride, methylene chloride, allyl chloride, vinyl chloride, ethyl chloride, 1-chlorobutane, tetrachloroethylene, chlorobenzene, and hydrogen chloride were detected in the emissions of burning PVC pipes. Furthermore, the concentrations of benzene, 1,3-butadiene, methyl methacrylate, carbon monoxide, acrolein, and formaldehyde were found at levels capable of affecting human health adversely. The analysis of PVC pipe leachates using GC-MS shows that there are 40-60 tentatively identified compounds, mostly long-chain hydrocarbons such as tetradecane, hexadecane, octadecane, and docosane, were released when the burned PVC materials were soaked in deionized water for one week. Quantitative analysis shows that 2-butoxyethanol, 2-ethyl-1-hexanol, and diethyl phthalate were found in the burned PVC polymer at the average levels of 2.7, 14.0, and 3.1 micrograms per gram (μg/g) of pipe material. This study has significant implications for understanding the benzene contamination of drinking water in the aftermath of wildfires that burned polymer pipes in California.
Keywords: GC-MS and infrared analysis of PVC-related pollutants; emissions analysis of PVC fires; polymer-derived contaminants; post-fire PVC leachate characterization.