For many centuries, lead was the favoured material for water pipes, because its malleability made it practical to work into the desired shape. (Such use was so common that the word "plumbing" derives from plumbum, the Latin word for lead.) This was a source of lead-related health problems in the years before the health hazards of ingesting lead were fully understood; among these were stillbirths and high rates of infant mortality. Lead water pipes were still widely used in the early 20th century, and remain in many households. In addition, lead-tin alloy solder was commonly used to join copper pipes, but modern practice uses tin-antimony alloy solder instead, in order to eliminate lead hazards.
Plumbing originated during ancient civilizations such as the Greek, Roman, Persian, Indian, and Chinese cities as they developed public baths and needed to provide potable water and wastewater removal, for larger numbers of people. Standardized earthen plumbing pipes with broad flanges making use of asphalt for preventing leakages appeared in the urban settlements of the Indus Valley Civilization by 2700 BC. The Romans used lead pipe inscriptions to prevent water theft. The word "plumber" dates from the Roman Empire. The Latin for lead is plumbum. Roman roofs used lead in conduits and drain pipes and some were also covered with lead. Lead was also used for piping and for making baths.