California Assembly Bill 1953, which calls for the reduction of lead content in plumbing pipes, fittings and fixtures to no more than 0.25 percent, passed the state House by one vote on May 31. The current law allows up to 8 percent lead for pipes and fittings and 4 percent for plumbing fittings and fixtures. If passed, the bill would take effect in 2010.

Shortly after its passage, the California Senate amended the bill in response to various misrepresentations that came to light after House passage. As of this writing the bill was in suspension while California Assembly members evaluate the new information. The Senate may choose to vote on its amended bill in August. If it passes, the amended bill would have to be re-voted upon by the House.

The bill has been challenged by the Plumbing Manufacturers Institute (PMI), NSF, the Copper Development Association (CDA), and Non-Ferrous Founders' Society (NFFS), whose members include brass and bronze ingot manufacturers that supply most of the alloyed ingot to the plumbing manufacturing industry.

Objections were raised about a number of issues, the most striking of which is misinformation supplied by proponents of AB 1953 that led California lawmakers to believe faucets of various plumbing manufacturers already would comply with the new law. Top executives from Chicago Faucets, T&S Brass and Central Brass - whose products were cited as in compliance - all sent letters to the bill's author, Wilma Chan, assuring her this was not the case.

“AB 1953 proposes an unprecedented, artificially low standard that would prohibit virtually all faucets, valves and backflow preventers currently on the market,” wrote a CDA spokesman to an Assembly member. Opponents doubted the feasibility of meeting the 0.25 percent requirements using any known technology.

Other points of contention include:

  • AB 1953 incorporates a “convoluted and fundamentally flawed formula” to calculate the percentage of lead in plumbing products. According to PMI Executive Director Barbara Higgens, “Application of the formula would have the opposite effect in many instances and would preclude the availability of products that are proven to be among the safest available today … The result is an arbitrary, unenforceable and confusing calculation.”

  • Faucets are the main contributors of lead in drinking water, said supporters of AB 1953. PMI cited research by the American Waterworks Association Research Foundation showing faucet lead levels of less than 2 parts per billion, while aging pipe and plumbing system infrastructure are identified as the main contributors of trace amounts of lead in the water supply.

  • Supporters said CDC reports show that blood lead levels remain high. According to PMI, CDC documents report blood lead levels in children down nearly 40 percent from the early 1990s, when previous legislation forced a reduction in lead content in plumbing products.

  • Opponents also cited a lack of any enforcement component in the bill.

    The most scathing denouncement came from NFFS Executive Director James Mallory, who wrote to an Assembly member: “NFFS and its members are concerned at the appalling lack of scientific evidence and expertise supporting Assembly Bill 1953 … We are equally appalled by the cavalier 'don't confuse us with your facts' (his italics) attitude evidenced by supporters of the bill.”

    Supporters were led by a lobbyist from the water utility industry, and a group called the California Metals Coalition (CMC), whose letter of support came “at the eleventh hour in direct contravention of the expressed wishes of its members,” according to Mallory. PMI advised that most of CMC's members do not manufacture potable water devices, and those that do are opposed to AB 1953.

    Opponents of the bill urged the California Assembly to instead recognize the federally approved NSF/ANSI Standard 61 to resolve any issues regarding the safety of drinking water system components. “The regulatory framework already exists within the California Plumbing Code that currently requires products to comply with NSF-61,” stated an NSF position paper on AB 1953.