Polybutylene is a plastic resin used to manufacture water pipes from 1975 to 1996. Inexpensive and easy to install, polybutylene pipes were used extensively in the construction of new homes in place of copper pipes.
Polybutylene Pipes Failed
Soon after polybutylene plumbing became popular, the piping began to fail without warning, causing hundreds of millions of dollars in damage to people's homes. Failure was later attributed to interaction between the pipes and chlorine in public water systems, which caused the pipes to become brittle.
Class Action Lawsuits
In the 1980s, many people filed class action lawsuits against manufacturers, who settled the cases without admitting that the pipes were flawed in any way. The largest lawsuit, Cox vs. Shell Oil, resulted in the company paying almost $1 billion in damages.
States and Municipalities Ban Polybutylene
Several municipalities and states banned the use of polybutylene piping. The companies that manufactured the piping challenged the bans. There was never a federal ban on the piping.
In 1996, Shell Oil Company stopped selling the resin that manufacturers had used in the defective pipes.
Polybutylene No Longer Available
Polybutylene piping is not banned on a national level, but neither is it available. It does, however, still exist in many homes built between 1975 and 1996.
Tanya Lee is a professional writer with more than 30 years experience. She has published extensively in the field of education and as a journalist, the latter in such publications as "High Country News" and "News from Indian Country." Lee holds a M.Ed. from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.