Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton and Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry A. Waxman recently re-introduced H.R. 2076, the Lead-Free Drinking Water Bill of 2007.

A statement from Norton reports that she, Waxman and former Sen. James Jeffords  looked at the 1974 Safe Drinking Water Act and the Lead and Copper Rule and determined that, even with the revision of the rule in 1991, it did not meet standards that they believe should have been adopted at that time.

H.R. 2076 would establish “a maximum contaminant level for lead in drinking water as measured at the tap; or if it is not practicable to establish such a level with adequate provision for variability and factors outside of the control of a public water system, establish a treatment technique to achieve an action level for lead that is at least as stringent as the action level established by the national primary drinking water regulation for lead under subpart I of part 141 of Title 40, Code of Federal Regulations.”

The proposed legislation would ban all products that provide water for human ingestion (including water for bathing) that are not “lead-free” (defined by the bill as 0.2 percent lead or less) within five years after the bill’s introduction. “High-lead” products (greater than 2 percent lead) would be banned one year after the bill is enacted.

Both the 0.2 percent and 2 percent standards are drastic reductions from today’s 8 percent allowance. The 0.2 percent lead-free definition is even lower than California’s 0.25 percent standard, signed into law last year and slated to take effect in 2010.

Industry Manufacturers Frustrated

Plumbing manufacturers have reacted to the bill with disappointment and frustration. They say they do not know how to make plumbing products with so little lead content at a price most people could afford. This same argument was made when California legislators took up a similar bill last fall, which Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law.

According to Barb Higgens, executive director of the Plumbing Manufacturers Institute, “There is no solution for getting the lead out immediately. There are expensive alternatives like stainless steel, but that brings faucets up into the $800-900 range, so there is no easy substitute.”

At press time, PMI intended to host a roundtable on May 31 in Chicago to explore the viability and the availability of other substitute alloys. PMI also has embarked on an information campaign explaining the dilemma to legislators both in Washington, D.C., and California to make sure these bills are properly interpreted “so that people understand there’s nothing to fear from your faucets,” said Higgens.