A proposed class action alleges blue- and red-colored cross-linked polyethylene tubing (PEX) made by Uponor is defective and prone to premature degradation, deterioration and failure.
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The 20-page lawsuit out of Colorado claims the Uponor PEX piping, a popular product made for use in residential plumbing systems, can develop exterior microcracks due to the oxidizing process whereby the blue and red coloring—for cold and hot water lines, respectively—are added to the tubing. According to the complaint, Uponor, in order to get the blue and red coating to stick to the outside of the PEX tubing, runs the product through a furnace/flame treatment that aids in the application of coatings and adhesives. This heat treatment, however, destroys the tubing’s antioxidant stabilizers, which are crucial for the piping to achieve flexibility, maintain ductility and protect against embrittlement, the lawsuit says.
“Because the outside surface of Uponor PEX is depleted of antioxidants after the flame treatment, the outside surface prematurely becomes brittle and develops microcracks when the tubing is expanded during installation,” the lawsuit elaborates, claiming the tiny cracks stemming from the manufacturing defect can grow and eventually cause leaks and significant property damage.
The complaint relays that although Uponor discontinued its manufacture, distribution and sale of blue and red PEX because of the above-described defects, the company “misrepresented that the product was being ‘suspended,’ not ‘discontinued,’” and instead concealed that the tubing was discontinued due to its tendency to fail prematurely.
PEX piping is popular due to its flexibility and ease of installation, the suit begins. The case says that most PEX manufacturers, unlike Uponor, add red or blue pigment along with antioxidant stabilizers to the tubing’s plastic formulation during the extrusion process, i.e., when the tubing is formed, and prior to cross-linking, which adds color evenly throughout the tubing wall.
In Uponor’s manufacturing process, however, the PEX tubing is made prior to the addition of blue or red coating to its outside surface, according to the suit. Given coatings do not stick to PEX, Uponor has patented a color-coating process that involves sending the tubing through a heated oxidization method that effectively burns the outside of the pipe, the case reads, displaying a picture purporting to show the difference between other manufacturers’ PEX and that of the defendants:
Although the heat improves the PEX’s adhesion property for the purpose of applying coatings, it also destroys the vital antioxidants on the outside of the tubing, causing it to become brittle and develop microcracks, the complaint says.
Per the filing, defendants Uponor, Inc. and Uponor North America, Inc. have represented that they have produced more than five billion feet of PEX tubing and are responsible for “approximately one-third of all PEX sold in the United States.” The suit asserts that Uponor has repeatedly represented that buyers should trust the company given its years of experience as an industry leader. Contrary to Uponor’s affirmative statements, the case says, its PEX tubing is “predisposed” to premature oxidative failure, causing damage to consumers’ plumbing systems.
In 2018, Uponor settled for $18 million a proposed class action that alleged the company used a cheap, zinc-heavy form of brass in its Wirsbo PEX plumbing that clogged pipes when exposed to water.
The lawsuit looks to represent all persons or entities who own homes or other structures in Colorado outfitted with Uponor PEX as the lines and components of a potable water plumbing system.
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