The California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) announced Jan. 11 that it would conduct environmental and safety tests before approving the widespread use of chlorinated polyvinyl chloride (CPVC) pipe in the state.

“The department had previously forwarded the recommendation for statewide use of CPVC in the plumbing code with a negative declaration,” Janet M. Huston, the department's director of communications and government affairs, told PM. “That declaration has been withdrawn and the department will be conducting an [environmental impact report] on CPVC.”

Current California regulations authorize the use of CPVC where local building officials determine that there is, or will be, a “premature failure of metallic pipe.” The negative declaration ensures “the health and safety of the installers and consumers from all identified and known potential hazards” of CPVC. It was made after a 1997 court case (Richard Cuffe v. California Building Standards Commission), when HCD conducted an environmental impact report (EIR) and concluded that “no significant adverse effects would result from the approval of CPVC.” The EIR was challenged, and the case was settled after HCD issued the mitigative negative declaration.

In March 2005, the department issued a draft addendum to the California Plumbing Code that would approve CPVC in any home or residential building in the state. This represented a “significant change to current regulatory law,” said Alan Lowenthal, chairman of the state's Senate Committee on Environmental Quality, in an April 12, 2005, letter written to then-HCD Director Lucetta Dunn. He called for an EIR to be conducted in compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act.

Dunn replied in an April 20, 2005, letter to Lowenthal that the proposal “would … have the potential effect of expanding the use of CPVC on a statewide basis by removing the requirement for a local finding of premature pipe failures, but none of the mitigation measures are being deleted.” Moreover, HCD was soliciting public comments on the proposal, and a public hearing was held on Aug. 1, 2005.

Huston stated that a new EIR will now be conducted “based upon the volume of comments received during the required comment period.”

The review is expected to take up to 12 months.

“The state realizes that consumers need something other than metallic pipe to be available in the plumbing code,” said Richard Church, executive director of the Plastic Pipe and Fittings Association. “This is not the first time a review has been done, but this will bring the information up-to-date and should lead to a better choice [in plumbing materials] for California consumers.”

A coalition of environmental, fire safety and consumer groups - including the California State Pipe Trades Council, the California Professional Firefighters Association, Communities for a Better Environment, the Sierra Club, the Consumer Federation of California, the Center for Environmental Health, and the Planning and Conservation League - has consistently lobbied against the use of CPVC, PEX and other plastic pipe in the California Plumbing Code.

They are concerned that these materials can “leach potentially cancer-causing chemicals into drinking water and increase the risk of fires,” according to a release by the group, and cite leaching studies commissioned by the State of California and conducted by UC Berkeley labs.

However, the Plastic Pipe and Fittings Association, on its Web site, counters these accusations: “Tests performed at respected universities and independent laboratories confirm that CPVC is superior to copper/lead solder systems in terms of water-quality effects and is 'no more toxic than wood' in a fire.

“All plastics used in potable water systems must be tested regularly and certified by a similar third-party certifier as meeting the strict public health requirements of ANSI/NSF 61. This testing ensures that drinking water carried by plastic pipe meets all EPA standards.”