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A leak is a way (usually an opening) for
fluid In physics, a fluid is a liquid, gas, or other material that continuously deforms (''flows'') under an applied shear stress, or external force. They have zero shear modulus, or, in simpler terms, are substances which cannot resist any shear ...
to escape a container or
fluid In physics, a fluid is a liquid, gas, or other material that continuously deforms (''flows'') under an applied shear stress, or external force. They have zero shear modulus, or, in simpler terms, are substances which cannot resist any shear ...
-containing system, such as a
tank A tank is an armoured fighting vehicle intended as a primary offensive weapon in front-line ground combat. Tank designs are a balance of heavy firepower, strong armour, and good battlefield mobility provided by tracks and a powerful engi ...
or a ship's
hull Hull may refer to: Structures * Chassis, of an armored fighting vehicle * Fuselage, of an aircraft * Hull (botany), the outer covering of seeds * Hull (watercraft), the body or frame of a ship * Submarine hull Mathematics * Affine hull, in affi ...
, through which the contents of the container can escape or outside matter can enter the container. Leaks are usually unintended and therefore undesired. The word ''leak'' usually refers to a gradual loss; a sudden loss is usually called a ''spill''. The matter leaking in or out can be
gas Gas is one of the four fundamental states of matter (the others being solid, liquid, and plasma). A pure gas may be made up of individual atoms (e.g. a noble gas like neon), elemental molecules made from one type of atom (e.g. oxygen), or ...
,
liquid A liquid is a nearly incompressible fluid that conforms to the shape of its container but retains a (nearly) constant volume independent of pressure. As such, it is one of the four fundamental states of matter (the others being solid, gas, an ...
, a highly
viscous The viscosity of a fluid is a measure of its resistance to deformation at a given rate. For liquids, it corresponds to the informal concept of "thickness": for example, syrup has a higher viscosity than water. Viscosity quantifies the inter ...
paste, or even a
solid Solid is one of the four fundamental states of matter (the others being liquid, gas, and plasma). The molecules in a solid are closely packed together and contain the least amount of kinetic energy. A solid is characterized by structural r ...
such as a powdered or granular solid or other solid particles. Sometimes the word "''leak''" is used in a figurative sense. For example, in a
news leak A news leak is the unsanctioned release of confidential information to news media. It can also be the premature publication of information by a news outlet, of information that it has agreed not to release before a specified time, in violation of ...
secret information becomes public. According to ASTM D7053-17, water leakage is the passage of (liquid) water through a material or system designed to prevent passage of water.


Types and possible causes

Types of leak openings include a puncture, gash,
rust Rust is an iron oxide, a usually reddish-brown oxide formed by the reaction of iron and oxygen in the catalytic presence of water or air moisture. Rust consists of hydrous iron(III) oxides (Fe2O3·nH2O) and iron(III) oxide-hydroxide (FeO(OH) ...
or other
corrosion Corrosion is a natural process that converts a refined metal into a more chemically stable oxide. It is the gradual deterioration of materials (usually a metal) by chemical or electrochemical reaction with their environment. Corrosion engine ...
hole, very tiny ''pinhole leak'' (possibly in imperfect welds), crack or microcrack, or inadequate sealing between components or parts joined together. When there is a puncture, the size and shape of the leak can often be seen, but in many other cases, the size and shape of the leak opening may not be so obvious. In many cases, the location of a leak can be determined by seeing material drip out at a certain place, although the leak opening itself is not obvious. In some cases, it may be known or suspected there is a leak, but even the location of the leak is not known. Since leak openings are often so irregular, leaks are sometimes sized by the leakage rate, as in volume of fluid leaked per time, rather than the size of the opening. Common types of leaks for many people include leaks in
vehicle A vehicle (from la, vehiculum) is a machine that transports people or cargo. Vehicles include wagons, bicycles, motor vehicles (motorcycles, cars, trucks, buses, mobility scooters for disabled people), railed vehicles (trains, trams), wat ...
tire A tire (American English) or tyre (British English) is a ring-shaped component that surrounds a wheel's rim to transfer a vehicle's load from the axle through the wheel to the ground and to provide traction on the surface over which t ...
s, causing air to leak out resulting in flat tires, and leaks in containers, spilling the contents. Leaks can occur or develop in many different kinds of household, building, vehicle, marine, aircraft, or industrial fluid systems, whether the fluid is a gas or liquid. Leaks in vehicle
hydraulic Hydraulics (from Greek: Υδραυλική) is a technology and applied science using engineering, chemistry, and other sciences involving the mechanical properties and use of liquids. At a very basic level, hydraulics is the liquid counter ...
systems such as
brake A brake is a mechanical device that inhibits motion by absorbing energy from a moving system. It is used for slowing or stopping a moving vehicle, wheel, axle, or to prevent its motion, most often accomplished by means of friction. Background ...
or
power steering A power steering is a mechanical device equipped on a motor vehicle that helps drivers steer the vehicle by reducing steering effort needed to turn the steering wheel, making it easier for the vehicle to turn or maneuver at lower speeds. Hydrauli ...
lines could cause outleakage of brake or power steering fluid resulting in failure of the brakes, power steering, or other hydraulic system. Also possible are leaks of engine coolant - particularly in the
radiator Radiators are heat exchangers used to transfer thermal energy from one medium to another for the purpose of cooling and heating. The majority of radiators are constructed to function in cars, buildings, and electronics. A radiator is always a ...
and at the
water pump A pump is a device that moves fluids (liquids or gases), or sometimes slurries, by mechanical action, typically converted from electrical energy into hydraulic energy. Pumps can be classified into three major groups according to the method they ...
seal, transmission fluid,
motor oil Motor oil, engine oil, or engine lubricant is any one of various substances used for the lubrication of internal combustion engines. They typically consist of base oils enhanced with various additives, particularly antiwear additives, deterge ...
, and
refrigerant A refrigerant is a working fluid used in the refrigeration cycle of air conditioning systems and heat pumps where in most cases they undergo a repeated phase transition from a liquid to a gas and back again. Refrigerants are heavily regulated du ...
in the
air conditioning Air conditioning, often abbreviated as A/C or AC, is the process of removing heat from an enclosed space to achieve a more comfortable interior environment (sometimes referred to as 'comfort cooling') and in some cases also strictly controlling ...
system. Some of these vehicle fluids have different colors to help identify the type of leaking fluid. A zinc-carbon battery is an example of an easy-leaking system; the
electrolyte An electrolyte is a medium containing ions that is electrically conducting through the movement of those ions, but not conducting electrons. This includes most soluble salts, acids, and bases dissolved in a polar solvent, such as water. Upon dis ...
s inside the cell sometimes leak out of the cell casing and cause damage to an electronic appliance. Water leaks occur when there is damage to the
water supply system A water supply network or water supply system is a system of engineered hydrologic and hydraulic components that provide water supply. A water supply system typically includes the following: # A drainage basin (see water purification – source ...
or
wastewater Wastewater is water generated after the use of freshwater, raw water, drinking water or saline water in a variety of deliberate applications or processes. Another definition of wastewater is "Used water from any combination of domestic, industrial ...
system on a property that causes a drip or flow to release.
Gas leak A gas leak refers to a leak of natural gas or another gaseous product from a pipeline or other containment into any area where the gas should not be present. Gas leaks can be hazardous to health as well as the environment. Even a small leak into ...
s, e.g. in
natural gas Natural gas (also called fossil gas or simply gas) is a naturally occurring mixture of gaseous hydrocarbons consisting primarily of methane in addition to various smaller amounts of other higher alkanes. Low levels of trace gases like carbon di ...
lines allow
flammable A combustible material is something that can burn (i.e., ''combust'') in air. A combustible material is flammable if it ignites easily at ambient temperatures. In other words, a combustible material ignites with some effort and a flammable mat ...
and potentially
explosive An explosive (or explosive material) is a reactive substance that contains a great amount of potential energy that can produce an explosion if released suddenly, usually accompanied by the production of light, heat, sound, and pressure. An expl ...
gas to leak out, resulting in a hazardous situation. Leaks of refrigerant may occur in
refrigerator A refrigerator, colloquially fridge, is a commercial and home appliance consisting of a thermally insulated compartment and a heat pump (mechanical, electronic or chemical) that transfers heat from its inside to its external environment so t ...
s or air conditioning systems, large and small. Some industrial plants, especially chemical and
power plant A power station, also referred to as a power plant and sometimes generating station or generating plant, is an industrial facility for the generation of electric power. Power stations are generally connected to an electrical grid. Many pow ...
s, have numerous fluid systems containing many types of liquid or gas chemicals, sometimes at high
temperature Temperature is a physical quantity that expresses quantitatively the perceptions of hotness and coldness. Temperature is measurement, measured with a thermometer. Thermometers are calibrated in various Conversion of units of temperature, temp ...
and/or
pressure Pressure (symbol: ''p'' or ''P'') is the force applied perpendicular to the surface of an object per unit area over which that force is distributed. Gauge pressure (also spelled ''gage'' pressure)The preferred spelling varies by country and ...
. An example of a possible industrial location of a leak between two fluid systems includes a leak between the shell and tube sides in a
heat exchanger A heat exchanger is a system used to transfer heat between a source and a working fluid. Heat exchangers are used in both cooling and heating processes. The fluids may be separated by a solid wall to prevent mixing or they may be in direct contac ...
, potentially contaminating either or both fluid systems with the other fluid. A system holding a full or partial
vacuum A vacuum is a space devoid of matter. The word is derived from the Latin adjective ''vacuus'' for "vacant" or "void". An approximation to such vacuum is a region with a gaseous pressure much less than atmospheric pressure. Physicists often dis ...
may have a leak causing inleakage of air from the outside. Hazmat procedures and/or teams may become involved when leakage or spillage of hazardous materials occurs. Leaks while transporting hazardous materials could result in danger; for example, when accidents occur. However, even leakage of
steam Steam is a substance containing water in the gas phase, and sometimes also an aerosol of liquid water droplets, or air. This may occur due to evaporation or due to boiling, where heat is applied until water reaches the enthalpy of vaporization. ...
can be dangerous because of the high temperature and energy of the steam. Leakage of air or other gas out of
hot air balloon A hot air balloon is a lighter-than-air aircraft consisting of a bag, called an envelope, which contains heated air. Suspended beneath is a gondola or wicker basket (in some long-distance or high-altitude balloons, a capsule), which carries ...
s,
dirigible An airship or dirigible balloon is a type of aerostat or lighter-than-air aircraft that can navigate through the air under its own power. Aerostats gain their lift from a lifting gas that is less dense than the surrounding air. In early ...
s, or cabins of
airplane An airplane or aeroplane (informally plane) is a fixed-wing aircraft that is propelled forward by thrust from a jet engine, propeller, or rocket engine. Airplanes come in a variety of sizes, shapes, and wing configurations. The broad spectr ...
s could present dangerous situations. A leak could even be inside a body, such as a hole in the
septum In biology, a septum (Latin for ''something that encloses''; plural septa) is a wall, dividing a cavity or structure into smaller ones. A cavity or structure divided in this way may be referred to as septate. Examples Human anatomy * Interatr ...
between
heart The heart is a muscular organ in most animals. This organ pumps blood through the blood vessels of the circulatory system. The pumped blood carries oxygen and nutrients to the body, while carrying metabolic waste such as carbon dioxide to ...
ventricles causing an exchange of oxygenated and deoxygenated blood, or a
fistula A fistula (plural: fistulas or fistulae ; from Latin ''fistula'', "tube, pipe") in anatomy is an abnormal connection between two hollow spaces (technically, two epithelialized surfaces), such as blood vessels, intestines, or other hollow o ...
between bodily cavities such as between
vagina In mammals, the vagina is the elastic, muscular part of the female genital tract. In humans, it extends from the vestibule to the cervix. The outer vaginal opening is normally partly covered by a thin layer of mucosal tissue called the hymen ...
and
rectum The rectum is the final straight portion of the large intestine in humans and some other mammals, and the gut in others. The adult human rectum is about long, and begins at the rectosigmoid junction (the end of the sigmoid colon) at the le ...
. There can be numerous causes of leaks. Leaks can occur from the outset even during construction or initial manufacture/assembly of fluid systems.
Pipes Pipe(s), PIPE(S) or piping may refer to: Objects * Pipe (fluid conveyance), a hollow cylinder following certain dimension rules ** Piping, the use of pipes in industry * Smoking pipe ** Tobacco pipe * Half-pipe and quarter pipe, semi-circular ...
, tubing,
valve A valve is a device or natural object that regulates, directs or controls the flow of a fluid (gases, liquids, fluidized solids, or slurries) by opening, closing, or partially obstructing various passageways. Valves are technically fitting ...
s, fittings, or other components may be improperly joined or welded together. Components with threads may be improperly screwed together. Leaks can be caused by damage; for example, punctures or fracture. Often leaks are the result of deterioration of materials from wear or aging, such as rusting or other corrosion or decomposition of
elastomer An elastomer is a polymer with viscoelasticity (i.e. both viscosity and elasticity) and with weak intermolecular forces, generally low Young's modulus and high failure strain compared with other materials. The term, a portmanteau of ''elastic ...
s or similar
polymer A polymer (; Greek '' poly-'', "many" + ''-mer'', "part") is a substance or material consisting of very large molecules called macromolecules, composed of many repeating subunits. Due to their broad spectrum of properties, both synthetic and ...
materials used as
gasket Some seals and gaskets A gasket is a mechanical seal which fills the space between two or more mating surfaces, generally to prevent leakage from or into the joined objects while under compression. It is a deformable material that is used to cr ...
s or other seals. For example, wearing out of
faucet A tap (also spigot or faucet: see usage variations) is a valve controlling the release of a liquid or gas. Nomenclature United Kingdom * Tap is used in the United Kingdom and most of the Commonwealth for any everyday type of valve, partic ...
washers Washer most commonly refers to: *Washer (hardware), a thin usually disc-shaped plate with a hole in the middle typically used with a bolt or nut *Washing machine, for cleaning clothes Washer may also refer to: *Dishwasher, a machine for cleani ...
causes water to leak at the faucets. Cracks may result from either outright damage, or wearing out by stress such as fatigue failure or corrosion such as
stress corrosion cracking Stress corrosion cracking (SCC) is the growth of crack formation in a corrosive environment. It can lead to unexpected and sudden failure of normally ductile metal alloys subjected to a tensile stress, especially at elevated temperature. SCC ...
. Wearing out of a surface between a disk and its seat in a valve could cause a leak between ports (valve inlets or outlets). Wearing out of packing around a turning valve stem or rotating
centrifugal pump Centrifugal pumps are used to transport fluids by the conversion of rotational kinetic energy to the hydrodynamic energy of the fluid flow. The rotational energy typically comes from an engine or electric motor. They are a sub-class of dynamic ...
shaft could develop into fluid outleakage into the environment. For some frequently operating centrifugal pumps, such leakage is so expected that provisions are made for carrying away the leakage. Similarly, wearing out of seals or packing around piston-driven pumps could also develop into outleakage to the environment. The pressure difference between both sides of the leak can affect the movement of material through the leak. Fluids will commonly move from the higher pressure side to the lower pressure side. The larger the pressure difference, the more leakage there will typically be. The fluid pressures on both sides include the
hydrostatic pressure Fluid statics or hydrostatics is the branch of fluid mechanics that studies the condition of the equilibrium of a floating body and submerged body "fluids at hydrostatic equilibrium and the pressure in a fluid, or exerted by a fluid, on an imme ...
, which is pressure due to the
weight In science and engineering, the weight of an object is the force acting on the object due to gravity. Some standard textbooks define weight as a vector quantity, the gravitational force acting on the object. Others define weight as a scalar quan ...
from the height of fluid level above the leak. When the pressures are about equal, there can be an exchange of fluids between both sides, or little to no net movement of fluid across the leak.


Testing

Containers, vessels, enclosures, or other fluid system are sometimes tested for leaks - to see if there is any leakage and to find where the leaks are so corrective action can be taken. There are several methods for leak testing, depending on the situation. Sometimes leakage of fluid may make a
sound In physics, sound is a vibration that propagates as an acoustic wave, through a transmission medium such as a gas, liquid or solid. In human physiology and psychology, sound is the ''reception'' of such waves and their ''perception'' by the ...
which can be detected. Tires, engine radiators, and maybe some other smaller vessels may be tested by pressurizing them with air and submerging them in water to see where air bubbles come out to indicate a leak. If submerging in water is not possible, then pressurization with air followed by covering the area to be tested with a
soap Soap is a salt of a fatty acid used in a variety of cleansing and lubricating products. In a domestic setting, soaps are surfactants usually used for washing, bathing, and other types of housekeeping. In industrial settings, soaps are used ...
solution is done to see if soap bubbles form, which indicate a leak. Other types of testing for gas leaks may involve testing for the outleaking gases with sensors which can detect that gas, for example - special sensing instruments for detecting natural gas. U.S. federal safety law now requires natural gas companies to conduct testing for gas leaks upstream of their customer's gas meters. Where liquids are used, special color dyes may be added to help see the leakage. Other detectable substances in one of the liquids may be tested, such as saline to find a leak in a sea water system, or detectable substances may even be deliberately added to test for leakage. Newly constructed, fabricated, or repaired systems or other vessels are sometimes tested to verify satisfactory production or repair.
Plumber A plumber is a tradesperson who specializes in installing and maintaining systems used for potable (drinking) water, and for sewage and drainage in plumbing systems.
s often test for leaks after working on a water or other fluid system. A vessel or system is sometimes pressure tested by filling with air and the pressure monitored to see if it drops, indicating a leak. A very commonly used test after new construction or repair is a
hydrostatic test A hydrostatic test is a way in which pressure vessels such as pipelines, plumbing, gas cylinders, boilers and fuel tanks can be tested for strength and leaks. The test involves filling the vessel or pipe system with a liquid, usually water, wh ...
, sometimes called a pressure test. In a hydrostatic test, a system is pressurized with water to look for a drop in pressure or to see where it leaks out.
Helium Helium (from el, ἥλιος, helios, lit=sun) is a chemical element with the symbol He and atomic number 2. It is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, non-toxic, inert, monatomic gas and the first in the noble gas group in the periodic table. It ...
testing may be done to detect for any very small leakage such as when testing certain diaphragm or bellows valves, made for high purity and utra high purity service, requiring low leak rate capability.
Helium Helium (from el, ἥλιος, helios, lit=sun) is a chemical element with the symbol He and atomic number 2. It is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, non-toxic, inert, monatomic gas and the first in the noble gas group in the periodic table. It ...
and
hydrogen Hydrogen is the chemical element with the symbol H and atomic number 1. Hydrogen is the lightest element. At standard conditions hydrogen is a gas of diatomic molecules having the formula . It is colorless, odorless, tasteless, non-toxi ...
have very small
molecule A molecule is a group of two or more atoms held together by attractive forces known as chemical bonds; depending on context, the term may or may not include ions which satisfy this criterion. In quantum physics, organic chemistry, and bioch ...
s which can go through very small leaks. Leak testing is part of the non-destructive test NDT portfolio that can be applied to a part to verify its conformity; depending on material, pressure, leak tightness specifications, different methods can be applied. International standards has been defined to assist in these choices. For example, BS EN 1779:1999; it applies to assessment of leak tightness by indication or measurement of gas leakage, but excludes hydrostatic, ultrasonic or electromagnetic methods. Other standards also apply: * BS EN 13184:2001 Non-destructive testing. Leak testing. Pressure change process * BS EN 13185:2001 Non-destructive testing. Leak testing.
Tracer gas A tracer-gas leak testing method is a nondestructive testing method that detects gas leaks. A variety of methods with different sensitivities exist. Tracer-gas leak testing is used in the petrochemical industry, the automotive industry, and in the ...
method * BS EN 13192:2002 Non-destructive testing. Leak testing. Calibration of reference leaks for gases In
shell and tube heat exchanger A shell and tube heat exchanger is a class of heat exchanger designs. It is the most common type of heat exchanger in oil refineries and other large chemical processes, and is suited for higher-pressure applications. As its name implies, this ty ...
s,
Eddy current Eddy currents (also called Foucault's currents) are loops of electrical current induced within conductors by a changing magnetic field in the conductor according to Faraday's law of induction or by the relative motion of a conductor in a magne ...
testing is sometimes done in the tubes to find locations on tubes where there may be leaks or damage which may eventually develop into a leak.


Corrective action

In complex plants with multiple fluid systems, many interconnecting units holding fluids have isolation valves between them. If there is a leak in a unit, its isolation valves can be shut to "isolate" the unit from the rest of the plant. Leaks are often repaired by plugging the leaking holes or using a patch to cover them. Leaking tires are often fixed this way. Leaking gaskets, seals, washers, or packing can be replaced. Use of welding, soldering, sealing, or gluing may be other ways to fix leaks. Sometimes, the most practical solution is to replace the leaking unit. Leaking water heaters are often replaced by home or building owners. If there is a leak in one of the tubes of a
shell and tube heat exchanger A shell and tube heat exchanger is a class of heat exchanger designs. It is the most common type of heat exchanger in oil refineries and other large chemical processes, and is suited for higher-pressure applications. As its name implies, this ty ...
, that tube can be plugged at both ends with specially sized plugs to isolate the leak. This is done in the plenum(s) at the points where the tube ends connect to the tubesheet(s). Sometimes a damaged but not yet leaking tube is pre-emptively plugged to prevent future leakage. The
heat transfer Heat transfer is a discipline of thermal engineering that concerns the generation, use, conversion, and exchange of thermal energy (heat) between physical systems. Heat transfer is classified into various mechanisms, such as thermal conduction, ...
capacity of that tube is lost, but there are usually plenty of other tubes to pick up the heat transfer load.


See also

*
Explosion An explosion is a rapid expansion in volume associated with an extreme outward release of energy, usually with the generation of high temperatures and release of high-pressure gases. Supersonic explosions created by high explosives are known ...
*
Fugitive emissions Fugitive emissions are leaks and other irregular releases of gases or vapors from a pressurized containment – such as appliances, storage tanks, pipelines, wells, or other pieces of equipment – mostly from industrial activities. In addition ...
*
Non-revenue water Non revenue water (NRW) is water that has been produced and is "lost" before it reaches the customer. Losses can be real losses (through leaks, sometimes also referred to as physical losses) or apparent losses (for example through theft or meterin ...
*
Seal (mechanical) A mechanical seal is a device that helps join systems and mechanisms together by preventing leakage (e.g. in a pumping system), containing pressure, or excluding contamination. The effectiveness of a seal is dependent on adhesion in the case of ...


References

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