Plastic drain pipe mixup (C) D Friedman ABS Black Plastic Pipe in Buildings
Properties, uses, standards, defects, failure claims, class action

  • ABS PLASTIC PIPE -CONTENTS: description of Polybutylene ABS pipe use in buildings, installation, inspection, troubleshooting, leaks, failures, failure claims
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ABS or black plastic plumbing pipes:

This article describes the properties of ABS plastic piping and tubing used in buildings. We include information about failures and problems with some generations of plastic pipes (ABS, polybutylene) and we describe good building practice installation details where plastic piping is being installed.

The articles at this website will answer most questions about plastic building water supply and building drain piping products, failures, and claims as well as many other building plumbing system inspection or defect topics.

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ABS Plastic Pipe Failures, Leaks, Claims, Settlements

ABS Drain Piping (C) Daniel Friedman

As our black ABS drain piping photo shows (above), some drain line leaks having nothing to do with product defects can occur in this system if the piping is not properly installed.

Field investigations of leak stains (as in our photo) as well as investigations of sewer gas odors (SEWER GAS ODORS) have traced these problems to failure to properly clean, prime, and glue the pipe joints during construction.

However, "All Black -hit," defective black ABS plastic waste pipe manufactured in the mid 1980's failed by cracking, as Cranor's photo below illustrates.

"All Black -hit," defective black ABS plastic waste pipe manufactured in the mid 1980's failed by cracking. The result was litigation and some damage settlements, but currently it is unlikely that a homeowner will find legal relief for newly-discovered ABS drain waste vent piping cracks and failures.

History of ABS Pipe Failures: ABS Plastic Drain/Waste/Vent (DWV) pipe failure Brands

Photo of a home water softener systemOur photo (left) illustrates a homeowner-installed water softener drain cut into an ABS drain line - an unsanitary cross connecction explained

ABS drain pipe material failures were reported for pipe made between 1985 and 1988. [1][2][5][6][7] below

  • Apache ABS pipe failures: Apache Plastics defective piping was produced due to use of defective raw materials to make ABS DWV between January and May 1985. Not all Apache ABS DWV suffers the cracking failure problem, and less Apache ABS pipe defects are found than among the other manufacturers listed below.
  • Centaur ABS pipe: Centaur black ABS pipe was labeled with the company's name and was made between February and August 1985. Decoding for the date in data stamped on Centaur pipe: look at the production code found just past the UPC on the pipe, beginning with an "S"(1985) followed by 5 characters YMDDDP as follows:
    • Character 1: Year of manufacture: E=1971, F=1972, G=1973, etc. - an "S" = 1985 and a "T" =- 1986 - key problem years for ABS DWV piping defects.
    • Character 2: and Month of manufacture: D=Jan, E=Feb, etc. through O=Dec.
    • Characters 3, 4: Day of manufacture (2 characters) encoded as digits 1-0 corresponding to D-M respectively
    • Character 5: Production shift or Resin Lot code.
    • Character 6: used only for third party sales: Centaur also produced ABS piping for sale under other trade names. In that case Centaur advised that the company printed a "C" suffixed to the end of the product date code.
  • Gable ABS pipe failures: Gable plastics defective ABS piping was made during 1985 and 1986 and is very prone to cracking failures and leaks, again due to use of defective plastic raw materials.
    • Gable ABS pipe date of manufacture is stamped un-encoded onto the pipe
  • Phoenix ABS pipe, successor to Centaur Corp. issued defective, crack-prone ABS piping from January 1986 - October 1986. Phoenix used the same production codes (but the year will indicate it's Phoenix not Centaur).
  • Polaris ABS pipe, manufactured defective ABS piping between February 1985 and July 1985. Not all Polaris ABS piping made during this interval suffers the cracking failure, depending on variation in batches of purchased raw material.
    • Polaris ABS Pipe Date Encoding: nnnYY where
    • nnn = the numeric day of the year (001-365) and YY = the year in digits, such as 10085.
  • Spartan ABS pipe

More information: U.S. CPSC Hot Line: 800-638-8270

ABS Plastic Pipe Leak Failures Still Being Discovered

Cracked leaking ABS Drain Piping (C) Daniel Friedman John Cranor The House WhispererABS plastic drain and vent line failures are still being discovered, as John Cranor's photo from 2011 illustrates.

Home inspector John Cranor provided the photo at left of a cracked ABS drain line, commenting:

This photo of cracked ABS is damage that I feel has to be related to the defective ABS that was reported years ago. I am in VA and have inspected close to 6000 homes and this was the first I have seen this issue here. I saw at least six spots on the drain pipe in the crawl space that had similar cracking and white crusty residue like shown in photo.

I know there was once a lot of information out there about this issue but now I cannot find hardly anything. The website is now owned by some plumbing contractor and it has no useful information about ABS or its issue.

The seller of the property where I took this photo has some plumber saying there is nothing wrong and that he has never heard of a problem as I described. He claims the white residue is mud and that he could see no crack.

How to Detect or Find ABS plastic pipe cracking failures

Plastic drain pipe mixup (C) D FriedmanAlthough the cracked ABS drain line is quite visible in Mr. Cranor's photo (above), or in some areas where piping is exposed (photo at left) there may not be ready access for visual inspection of all surfaces of all of the plastic ABS drain lines in a building. Here are some tips that can reduce (not eliminate) the chances of missing faulty black ABS plastic drains:

  • For houses built between 1985 and 1988, perhaps extending into 1993 or even later (to allow for use of in-stock older ABS piping), inspectors, building owners, and building buyers should be particularly alert for leaks in ABS black plastic drain, waste or vent piping.

    As we noted above, for buildings constructed outside of this time window drain lines may have other leaks and defects, regardless of faulty materials themselves.
  • Look for visible damage, leaks, leak stains, or loose pipes or fittings that may be moving due to breaks or cracks in the DWV piping. Remember to include inspection of the vent piping system, from on-roof, in the attic, and in other accessible areas.

    Keep in mind that if you find even one leak there is a high risk that there may be additional hidden leaks as well as future failures and leaks.
  • Look for product dates & manufacturer's codes indicating the problem brands of ABS piping, listed above. Experts report defective ABS piping products based on manufacturer's product codes and dates even if no leaks are observed at the time of inspection.
  • Look on the under-side of lateral drain line runs through the building for evidence of leak stains on the ABS piping itself - the actual crack may be difficult to spot but leak stains may be more obvious (see the photo above)
  • Look for water leak stains on building walls, ceilings, floors below ABS drain pipes on nearby building surfaces
  • Look for ABS drain line cracks at the glue-line joint in and look for mixed plastic types (white PVC, black ABS) on older buildings.

    Cracking ABS failures often occurred close to glued unions. Modern plastic pipe glues can handle and even joint both types of plastics, but at an older installation such as at the home above, where we see mixed plastics we pose the possibility that none of the mixed-type plastic pipe joints may be properly glued.

    This is not a problem peculiar to defective ABS but the two conditions may be found together.
  • Look for evidence of repeated prior repairs that may indicate recurrent cracking and leak failures in the piping system
  • Pressure test drain, waste, vent piping systems: for a system that is in doubt or where a hidden leak is suspected (perhaps where there are undiagnosed sewer gas odors), consider pressure testing the DWV piping. Pressure testing can also detect improper pipe joints such as failure to glue the joints properly.

ABS Class Action & Litigation

The prior class action litigation involved five of the six ABS pipe manufacturer's brands listed above: Centaur, Phoenix, Polaris, Gable, and Apache. (Spartan was excluded). We have not found evidence of an class action (June 2012). The attorney involved in prior actions, David Birke-White, indicated (paraphrasing) that defective ABS piping failures are a progressive problem and that piping that had not already failed will do so in the future.[1]

ABS DWV pipe failure references

  • [1] Mark Cramer, Tampa Florida, provided background information about ABS black plastic drain piping failures, including lists of problem pipe manufacturers, date encoding, and attorney's statements. 2/28/1997. Mr. Cramer is a Florida home inspector and home inspection educator. He is a frequent contributor to Mr. Cramer provided information based on "Inspector's Field Notes"™, William P Ball, Ed., 1996.
  • [2] John Cranor provided a photograph of failed ABS drain piping used above. Mr. Craynor, an ASHI member and a home inspector (The House Whisperer) is located in Glen Allen, VA 23060. He is also a contributor to
  • [3] P. Davis, B.E. Tiganis, L.S. Burn, "The effect of photo-oxidative degradation on fracture in ABSpipe resins", Polymer Degradation and Stability, Volume 84, Issue 2, May 2004, Pages 233–242

    Abstract: This work investigates ultraviolet (UV) degradation and its influence on fracture failure in acrylonitrile–butadiene–styrene (ABS) resins. Preliminary chemiluminescence assessment of coupon specimens indicates that degradation is restricted to the specimen surface, with a relatively rapid depletion of residual stabiliser compared to the bulk of the specimen. Fourier transform infra-red spectral analysis indicates that this surface-specific degradation forms photoproducts with the distortion of absorbance bands (corresponding to the trans CC unsaturation (vinyl) in polybutadiene (PB), and the 1,2-butadiene terminal vinyl C–H band), indicating bond unsaturation.

    These changes in chemical structure are attributed to cross-linking and chain scission in the PB phase. It is proposed that surface degradation after UV exposure promotes brittle behaviour and may therefore influence the failure mechanism of ABS pressure pipes under static loading.

    The effect of UV exposure in coupon specimens is compared to that of surface notching, and plane-strain fracture toughness tests are used to obtain an empirical relationship between exposure time and “equivalent” notch depth. By assuming that this relationship is independent of specimen geometry (i.e. degradation is restricted to the surface), a methodology for estimating the lifetime of UV-exposed ABSpipes is proposed.

    An analysis of DN100 Class 15 ABSpipes predicts that a transition to brittle fracture failure occurs after 137 years. However, it is recommended that the influence of pipe wall thickness on degradation kinetics be quantified.
  • [2] J. P. Lu, P. Davis, L. S. Burn, "Lifetime prediction for ABS pipes subjected to combined pressure and deflection loading", Polymer Engineering & Science Volume 43, Issue 2, pages 444–462, February 2003,

    Abstract As part of an investigation into the performance of acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene (ABS) systems for water transportation, this paper presents a method for predicting the service lifetimes of buried pipes under in-service loading conditions. A linear fracture mechanics approach was used to analyze brittle failure initiating from adventitious flaws located at the bore surface of pipe. Failure criteria were determined using the time-dependent, quasistatic, plane strain fracture toughness of the ABS material, combined with empirical parameters that describe slow, steady crack growth.

    The expected operating conditions of a buried pipe were then separated into static loading contributions from internal pressure, diametrical deflection and residual stress. Idealized stress intensity factors associated with mode-I crack opening under each of these components were determined using a finite element analysis and superposed to describe the general case in service. The computed nett stress intensity factor was then combined with the previously determined fracture toughness and slow crack growth data in an algorithm to simulate incremental radial crack growth from the pipe bore.

    Predicted failure times compared well with an experimental model of expected operating conditions, which combined hydrostatic pressure and parallel-plate deflection loading of an internally notched pipe. The prediction method was also used to identify the factors that control the lifetime of a pipe in service. The influence of material visco-elasticity was investigated by simulating variations in fracture toughness and slow crack growth resistance. It was proposed that, in practice, these variations are governed by opposing changes in visco-elasticity.

    The effect of changing diametrical deflection and residual stress distribution were also simulated, allowing recommendations on pipe manufacture and installation conditions to be made.
  • [4] Lieff, Cabraser, Heimann & Bernstein, Attorneys at Law, "Lieff Cabraser represented plaintiffs who alleged that certain ABS pipe contained plastic resin that caused it to crack and leak."
  • [5] Bill Ball, "ABS Failure Video", Bill Ball Enterprises, 3104 O St., Sacramento CA 96186, Tel: 800-309-HOME.
  • [6] Note: the previous "Official website for the class action suit against ABS manufacturers" , with the official claim form and descriptive information: is no longer functional. The link at left produces a U.K. plumbing company.
  • [7] Redwood Kardon, "ABS DWV Pipe: reported defects", 1996,


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