Copper and CPVC Duke It Out in California
AB 942’s predecessor, the Baca Bill (AB 151), is set to expire December 31 — with no legislation in place to extend the period. Passed in 1995, AB 151 is legislation that temporarily allows chlorinated polyvinyl chloride pipe (CPVC) into those jurisdictions that applied for approval.
The Miller Bill would have permanently enabled homeowners in California to choose CPVC piping as an alternative to copper. CPVC is currently used in every other state and all industrialized countries worldwide. Copper piping has been an industry standard for over 70 years.
The lines for this battle are clearly drawn — and it looks like they will remain for a long time.
BFGoodrich, the main manufacturer of CPVC piping, claims that the unions and copper industry have a monopoly in California, and don’t want to let competition in. The unions claim contractors are not following safety regulations for CPVC installation, which endangers its worker’s health. The copper industry doesn’t want to be involved in the controversy.
The problem, though it seems simple, is quite complicated. Aggressive water and soil, or areas with low pH levels throughout California, is causing pitting in copper piping. CPVC piping does not corrode or pit in the presence of aggressive water.
“The average citizen in California doesn’t know what’s going on,” said Roy Harris, senior marketing manager for the Temprite Engineering Plastics division at BFGoodrich Specialty Chemicals. “It is a random problem, but it can cost from $2,000 to $3,000 to repipe a house. In some areas they have repiped the same house with copper four times.”
Harris said the copper industry has a strangle hold on California and does not want any competition.
Industry insiders say that it is a case of the California Pipe Trade Union wanting to protect it’s turf. CPVC can be put in easily installed by non-union workers, which translates into less hours and pay for union workers.
“There are numerous safety issues with the installation of CPVC that are being installed,” said Sid Cavanaugh, the director of technical services for the California State Pipe Trades. “We’re not opposed to CPVC in areas with low pH levels. It’s justified to use the material there.”
The Baca Bill requires that CPVC piping be used in accordance with specified work practices and flushing procedures.
Cavanaugh said safety procedures are not being followed for ventilation and proper equipment. It is an issue of contractors trying to save time and money while sacrificing the safety of workers, Cavanaugh said.
“We’re just supporting the law, and will continue to do so until the safety issues are addressed,” Cavanaugh said.
“The point is, no one, not the unions, not the copper industry, is ‘ganging up’ on CPVC,” said Andy Kireta, Sr., the national program director of the Copper Development Association. “The plastics manufacturer simply has not fulfilled a legal requirement to provide information on the impact their product would have on the California environment.”
Kireta is pointing out BFGoodrich’s inability to finish California’s Environmental Impact Report (EIR). The state of California must complete the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) process before it can change the state building code to allow the statewide use of CPVC. The legal and research costs needed to complete the CEQA process is estimated between $300,000 and $500,000. The report has been slowed by allegations from the unions concerning flammability and worker safety issues.
“Any worker or health issues would have shown up in other places,” said Harris. “All arguments are bogus.”
“We welcome open competition in all markets because we believe in our product on its own merits,” Kireta said. “From our perspective, this is a matter that should involve only the California courts and the plastics manufacturers to ensure that the environmental concerns of California are accommodated.”
But the Copper Development Association threw its hat into this controversy with a series of commercials aimed at CPVC’s reliability. The commercials — which aired on radio stations in California, Arizona, Nevada and Georgia — said that copper is “practically indestructible” and “when it comes to plumbing copper is proper.”
The commercials also points out that CPVC breaks down when it comes into direct contact with some household products, like spray lubricants and cooking oils. However, it neglects to say CPVC, like copper piping, is buried in the wall.
“CDA’s commercials are misleading and loaded with innuendoes that ask homeowners to believe that CPVC doesn’t work and that copper is the only material for home plumbing systems,” said Gary Gage, a re-pipe specialist with RCR Plumbing in Riverside, CA.
The battle, which is dormant for the time being, has been won by the unions and the Copper Development Association. Emergency legislation is currently being looked into in California as another option.
CPVC can still be installed on a case-by-case basis in the same areas with low pH levels. Individual soil tests and a Negative Mitigated Declaration (NMD) must be submitted for each house that wants to install CPVC. If there are 100 homes in a development, then the contractor must submit 100 tests and NMDs.