Defective ABS pipe
This is a letter my husband wrote explaining a disastrous situation we are experiencing with our renovated old house. I also posted it in the plumbing forum.
Black ABS plastic pipe is standard material in homes for the drainage for toilets, sinks, bathtubs, and showers, including the main stacks that connect to the sewer system. It is much larger than water pipes, usually 3" to 5" around. Between 1984 and 1990 five of the principal manufacturers produced large amounts of defective pipe, which was mainly sold to contractors and homeowners in California. The defective pipe is overly brittle. It eventually develops circumferential cracks next to joints, leading to disastrous leaks in walls and ceilings. The law firm of Lieff, Cabraser, Heiman & Bernstein led a successful class action lawsuit against five manufacturers of the defective pipe. As a result of the suit, a fund has been established to pay some amount to homeowners who have suffered damage, to cover replacement of the defective pipe and reclosing the involved walls and ceilings.
Many people bought and restored their old homes during the period when the defective drain pipe was being sold. They may have used it in repairing old plumbing during their restorations. In our case, we had to entirely replumb our 1910 house when we purchased it in 1988, and now it appears that the drain pipes our contractor used were, unknown to him, part of the bad batches.
We had our first pipe failure in July 2005 in the ABS drainpipe under a third-floor bathroom. Almost $3,000 later we had a section of the cracked pipe replaced and the hole in the 2nd floor ceiling below repaired. At that time we did not know about the mass sale of defective pipe in the 1980s.
The second failure was in June 2006 on the next floor down, in the drain pipe underneath the toilet in the 2nd floor bathroom. This led to opening the ceiling in our dining room. We are now waiting for the inspector from the class action settlement to make an inspection and advise us on how much of the installed ABS pipe to have replaced. In the meantime we must leave the hole in the dining room ceiling open for the inspector, who is to arrive sometime in the next three months. The toilet for the main bathroom in the house remains disconnected pending the outcome of the inspection.
Following are several websites that explain the situation, including the official class action site/
A Houston, TX, website describes ABS pipe and provides a drawing of the potential circumferential cracking problem in defective pipe stock produced between 1984 and 1990:
Official website for the class action suit against ABS manufacturers, with the official claim form and descriptive information:
Description by an experienced inspector of the ABS pipe problems:
Website of the attorneys who represented the homeowners in the class action suit over the defective pipe: