Federal legislation would have reduced lead amount in plumbing products from 8 percent to 0.2 percent

Federal legislation that would have drastically reduced the amount of lead in common plumbing products from 8 percent to 0.2 percent was sidetracked by some quick lobbying efforts of the Plumbing Manufacturers Institute.

Sen. Jim Jeffords (I-Vt.) introduced the Lead-Free Drinking Water Act on June 29, and by July 20, the bill's lead provisions that affected plumbing products were effectively halted, replaced by a bipartisan amendment to a larger Senate water infrastructure funding bill.

Part of the amendment includes calling for a study on plumbing products with input from PMI.

“We try not to be adversarial,” said Barbara Higgens, PMI's executive director. “We just want to be understood and heard. Many legislators didn't think they had enough hard data on the performance of plumbing products to base decisions on.”

As a result of PMI's contributions, the study will exclude plumbing products that are already exempt from NSF 61, Sec. 9, such as tub fillers, but will focus on other Sec. 9 products such as kitchen faucets that people commonly drink from. The study will also cover all Sec. 8 products, such as water meters and backflow preventers. The bill's original language did not draw a clear distinction between fixtures and fittings.

Also, the study will consider the various components that go into a finished faucet.

“A 'faucet' is not simply a single component, but several components that vary in lead content for specific reasons,” said Christian Richter, PMI's lobbyist. PMI has always contended that how a faucet performs is the key factor, rather than focusing attention on the lead content of one particular part of a faucet.

Finally, PMI pressed to be further consulted as the study progresses.

The new developments are a far cry from the bill Jeffords introduced last June, which contained stringent provisions for faucets, regardless of whether they fill a glass of water or bathtub. For example:

  • No plumbing products providing water for human ingestion can contain more than 2 percent lead within one year of enactment.

  • Five years after enactment, the allowable lead level drops to 0.2 percent.

  • Within 15 months of enactment, every school is required to repair, replace, permanently remove or render inoperable all drinking water coolers containing more than 0.2 percent lead (unless the drinking water cooler is tested and determined not to contribute lead to drinking water).

  • The maximum lead content would apply to devices that convey water for bathing, including tub fillers, shower valves and showerheads.

  • All plumbing fittings, including tub fillers, shower valves and showerheads, must be certified by an ANSI-accredited third party as meeting the requirement of NSF 61.

  • NSF 61 must be revised within one year to reduce the normalized lead leach concentration (known as the “Q value”) from 11 parts per billion to 5 ppb for applicable plumbing fittings. Failure to complete the revision to NSF 61 within two years would result in the 0.2 percent lead requirement for plumbing products to be effective within two years.

    Jeffords' bill also contains other provisions designed to correct lead in service lines that remain unaffected by the amendment to the funding bill. For example, the bill sets timetables for replacing lead public service water lines and requiring better notification for residents when a public utility detects high levels of lead.

    Last year in Washington, D.C., some homeowners had lead levels that exceeded the EPA limit by 30 times or more and were not notified for months after the discovery. The cause was largely determined to be a change in the disinfection process that made treated water more corrosive. As a result, the water leached more lead from service lines before reaching the tap.