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From Lead to Copper: Replacing America’s Aging Water Infrastructure

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The following content is sponsored by the Copper Development Association

From Lead to Copper: Replacing America’s Aging Water Infrastructure

Water service lines, crucial for connecting buildings to the public water supply, are often outdated and built from lead, presenting significant health risks to Americans.

As the government invests billions toward replacing lead service lines, copper pipelines offer a safe, reliable, resilient, and sustainable alternative.

This infographic from the Copper Development Association illustrates how investing in the transition from lead to copper is crucial for providing safe water to millions of Americans.

The Problem with Lead Service Lines

In the 20th century, lead was commonly used for water service lines and plumbing pipes.

However, lead pipes can degrade over time, leading to the release of lead particles into drinking water. Even at low-to-moderate levels, lead exposure can have severe negative health impacts, including:

  • Hearing loss
  • Anemia
  • Kidney impairment
  • Immune system dysfunction

Today, every state in America has lead service lines (LSLs) that the federal government is actively working to replace.

Besides LSLs, an additional 2.8 million galvanized water pipes also need replacing.

Delivering Safe Water

Copper tubing has become the primary material to replace old water service lines.

The red metal is an antimicrobial material that kills pathogens, and it is also highly corrosion-resistant, with a typical service life of over 50 years.

In addition, copper service lines are impermeable and prevent outside chemicals from leaking into water. Copper tubes can be fully recycled at the end of their useful lives without losing any beneficial properties.

Replacing Lead Service Lines with Copper

If America were to replace all 12 million of its lead and galvanized service lines, it would require more than 650 million feet of copper tubing, equivalent to 180,000 tonnes of metal. To compare, the U.S. produced 22 million tonnes of copper in 2022.

The U.S. has commissioned several large-scale copper recycling projects in recent years, creating opportunities to meet the demand with recycled and mined supply.

However, upgrading the nation’s water infrastructure will require over $56 billion, way more than the $15 billion currently provided by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

Visit Copper Development Association to learn more about how copper is crucial for providing safe water to millions of Americans. 

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Misc

Visualizing Raw Steel Production in 2023

China produces more than half the world’s steel.

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Voronoi graphic showing the estimated global production of raw steel in 2023.

Visualizing Raw Steel Production in 2023

This was originally posted on our Voronoi app. Download the app for free on iOS or Android and discover incredible data-driven charts from a variety of trusted sources.

Steel is essential for the economy due to its crucial role in infrastructure, construction, manufacturing, and transportation sectors.

This graphic breaks down the estimated global production of raw steel in 2023. The data was sourced from the U.S. Geological Survey as of January 2024.

China Produces More Than Half the World’s Steel

One major issue facing the steel industry is overcapacity in top producer China.

Steel production in China has surpassed demand in recent years, leading to downward pressure on the profit margins of steel mills worldwide.

Historically, China’s troubled real estate sector has accounted for over one-third of the country’s steel consumption. To address this issue, the Chinese government has mandated steel production cuts since 2021.

Far behind China, India is the second-biggest producer of steel, followed by Japan.

CountryRegion2023 Production (million tonnes)
🇨🇳 ChinaAsia1,000
🇮🇳 IndiaAsia140
🇯🇵 JapanAsia87
🇺🇸 U.S.North America80
🇷🇺 RussiaEurope75
🇰🇷 S. KoreaAsia68
🌍 Rest of World420
Total1,870

Infinite Recyclability

Steel is an alloy primarily composed of iron ore containing less than 2% carbon, 1% manganese, and other trace elements. It is 1,000 times stronger than iron and can be recycled over and over without sacrificing quality.

Steel is widely used in various industries. It is a fundamental material in construction, providing support through beams, internal structures, and roofing.

Moreover, steel’s corrosion-resistant properties make it ideal for water infrastructure. Stainless steel pipes are the preferred choice for underground water systems, ensuring longevity and purity in water transportation.

Additionally, most canned foods are stored in steel containers for preservation, as steel does not rust.

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Visualizing Cobalt Production by Country in 2023

The Democratic Republic of Congo accounts for 74% of the world’s cobalt output.

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Visualizing Cobalt Production by Country in 2023

This was originally posted on our Voronoi app. Download the app for free on iOS or Android and discover incredible data-driven charts from a variety of trusted sources.

Cobalt is a critical mineral used in numerous commercial, industrial, and military applications. In recent years, it has gained attention as it is also necessary for batteries used in cell phones, laptops, and electric vehicles (EVs).

This graphic illustrates estimated cobalt production by country in 2023 in metric tons. The data is from the most recent U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Mineral Commodity Summaries, published in January 2024.

The DRC Produces 74% of Global Cobalt

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) accounts for 74% of the world’s cobalt output. Although the metal is found on a large scale in other parts of the world, like Australia, Europe, and Asia, the African nation holds the biggest reserve by far. Of the 11,000,000 metric tons of worldwide reserves, it is estimated that 6,000,000 metric tons are located in the DRC.

Countrymetric tonsPercentage
🇨🇩 DRC170,00074%
🇮🇩 Indonesia17,0007%
🇷🇺 Russia8,8004%
🇦🇺 Australia4,6002%
🇲🇬 Madagascar4,0002%
🇵🇭 Philippines3,8002%
🌍 Other Countries21,1009.00%
Total229,300100%

Since around 20% of the cobalt mined in the DRC originates from small-scale artisanal mines, often employing child labor, the extraction of the metal has been a point of intense debate. With a long history of conflict, political upheaval, and instability, the country is often listed among the poorest nations in the world.

Today, the EV sector constitutes 40% of the overall cobalt market.

China is the world’s leading consumer of cobalt, with nearly 87% of its consumption used by the lithium-ion battery industry.

In the U.S., 50% of cobalt consumed is used in superalloys, mainly in aircraft gas turbine engines.

Learn More About Critical Minerals From Visual Capitalist

If you enjoyed this post, be sure to check out The Critical Minerals to China, EU, and U.S. National Security. This visualization shows which minerals are essential to China, the United States, and the European Union.

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