Most large cities today pipe solid wastes to sewage treatment plants in order to separate and partially purify the water, before emptying into streams or other bodies of water. For potable water use, galvanized iron piping was commonplace in the United States from the late 1800s until around 1960. After that period, copper piping took over, first soft copper with flared fittings, then with rigid copper tubing utilizing soldered fittings.
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Cast iron and ductile iron pipe was long a lower-cost alternative to copper, before the advent of durable plastic materials but special non-conductive fittings must be used where transitions are to be made to other metallic pipes, except for terminal fittings, in order to avoid corrosion owing to electrochemical reactions between dissimilar metals (see galvanic cell).
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Plastic pipe is in wide use for domestic water supply and drain-waste-vent (DWV) pipe. Principal types include: Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) was produced experimentally in the 19th century but did not become practical to manufacture until 1926, when Waldo Semon of BF Goodrich Co. developed a method to plasticize PVC, making it easier to process. PVC pipe began to be manufactured in the 1940s and was in wide use for Drain-Waste-Vent piping during the reconstruction of Germany and Japan following WWII. In the 1950s, plastics manufacturers in Western Europe and Japan began producing acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) pipe. The method for producing cross-linked polyethylene (PEX) was also developed in the 1950s. Plastic supply pipes have become increasingly common, with a variety of materials and fittings employed.
Despite the Romans' common use of lead pipes, their aqueducts rarely poisoned people. Unlike other parts of the world where lead pipes cause poisoning, the Roman water had so much calcium in it that a layer of plaque prevented the water contacting the lead itself. What often causes confusion is the large amount of evidence of widespread lead poisoning, particularly amongst those who would have had easy access to piped water. This was an unfortunate result of lead being used in cookware and as an additive to processed food and drink, for example as a preservative in wine. Roman lead pipe inscriptions provided information on the owner to prevent water theft.
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The movement of liquids and gases through pipes is critical to modern life. In homes, water is needed for both drinking and sanitation. In factories, chemicals are moved to aid in product manufacturing. In power plants, steam is moved to drive turbines that generate electricity. Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters install and repair these pipe systems.
Those who attempted to bring plumbing indoors faced technical as well as attitudinal challenges. Decisions on how wastewater was removed required as much concern as those made to ensure an adequate water supply. But equally vexing was the prevailing miasma theory of disease, which held that illnesses stemmed from "bad air" that was readily identifiable by its offensive odor. This led to a distrust of early indoor plumbing that tended to leak and a deadly fear of the sewer gas that accompanied the leaks. It is no wonder then that many individuals maintained a strong belief that elimination was best taken care of out of doors.