Soil Erosion Due to Defective Pipes: A Hidden Hazard Beneath Our Feet

Pooya Dastpak, Rita L. Sousa, Daniel Dias

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Sinkholes are a significant underground hazard that threatens infrastructure and lives and sometimes results in fatalities. The annual cost of sinkhole damages exceeds $300 million, although this estimate is likely underestimated due to the need for national tracking. Sinkholes can also alter natural drainage patterns, leading to increased flood risk. While natural sinkholes occur, those in urban areas are predominantly manmade, caused by soil erosion from defective pipes, typically due to aging. Climate change, storm surges, and urbanization have accelerated subsidence in urban environments, posing greater risks to critical infrastructure and densely populated areas. Extensive research has focused on soil erosion in dams; however, this knowledge does not necessarily apply to erosion through orifices, where gravity and other factors play significant roles. This paper presents a critical literature review on internal soil erosion due to defective pipes (SEDP). The review highlights that hydraulic loading, backfill type, and pipe conditions (defect shape, size, and depth) influence SEDP. Key findings from experiments and numerical studies are summarized, while mechanisms and knowledge gaps are identified. However, it is concluded that the current understanding in this field remains limited, underscoring the urgent need for further experimental and numerical research to expand the knowledge base on SEDP.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number8931
JournalSustainability (Switzerland)
Issue number11
StatePublished - Jun 2023


  • defective pipes
  • internal soil erosion
  • sinkhole
  • urban environments

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Computer Science (miscellaneous)
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)
  • Energy Engineering and Power Technology
  • Hardware and Architecture
  • Computer Networks and Communications
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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