Law will reduce lead in faucets to 0.25 percent, down from 8 percent
No faucets on the market meet new standard
Separate 1.3 gpf bill shot down

Copyright Horrocks
California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law legislation that will reduce the amount of lead found in faucets, fittings, piping and other common plumbing parts installed and repaired throughout the state to just 0.25 percent, a huge reduction from the old limit of 8 percent. Plumbing manufacturers have until 2010 to comply with the new restriction.

“Protecting public health is a top priority,” Schwarzenegger said in a news release issued after the Sept. 30 signing. “I signed this bill to reduce the amount of lead exposure in California's drinking water. We need to make sure that the water we consume is safe for everyone, especially our children.”

Last year, the governor signed legislation to continue childhood lead poisoning prevention efforts by strengthening the state's oversight to monitor for even lead content often found in the wrappings of imported candy.

“This doesn't change our position that there are no faucets on the market that meet this new standard,” said Barbara Higgens, executive director of the Plumbing Manufacturers Institute. “There are no simple drop-in replacement alloys appropriate for the critical, mechanical demands of a faucet.”

Higgens pointed out that the law lacks an enforcement mechanism and is unclear on exactly when and where a plumbing component would be targeted by the law. There had been language in the bill that defined that circumstance as “when entering into commerce in California for use in California,” she told us, but that language was struck out of the final bill that landed on the governor's desk

“In this case, a master distributor based in California stocking a product for sale in another state that contains more lead than the new limit would be in violation of the law,” Higgens explained.

Meanwhile, amendments made while the bill wound its way through the California legislature exempt many plumbing components that contain much more lead than even the old 8 percent limit.

The law also does not exempt nondrinking water products, such as tub fillers, utility sinks and toilet fill valves, to name a few. However, the bill does exempt parts that do not make contact with drinking water, such as faucet handles. Opponents contend that there will be significant costs involved in not only changing alloys in foundries, but also segregating recycling processes.

For its part, PMI organized lobby efforts, encouraged a letter-writing campaign with its members, and also joined in the fight with other trade groups against the bill. For example, a letter to the governor from the California Manufacturers & Technology Association states that the “bill needlessly frightens consumers and would require changes in manufacturing processes with which faucet manufacturers and the building industry cannot comply. This is a case of supporters of the bill wanting law to drive innovation. The result, at best, will be limited availability and higher cost, and only if alternative alloys can be found.”

Opponents of the legislation all made the case that NSF Standard 61 ensures consumers against the dangers of lead from faucets and other plumbing parts that deliver drinking water. Such standards are based on how products perform rather than what they can or can't contain, which is the California law's basic intent.

While the NSF does not take an official position on proposed legislation, the group did not agree with the change and shared data with the California legislators to make the case for its standard-making process.

“PMI is disappointed in the passage of AB 1953,” Higgens summed up. “While the measure's intent is to make plumbing products safer, it mandates an arbitrary, redundant and flawed formula to evaluate products that already undergo proven, rigorous testing under a federally-approved certification system.”

1.3 gpf Bill Vetoed

Meanwhile, Schwarzenegger vetoed AB 2496, sponsored by Assemblyman John Laird (D-Santa Cruz), in an attempt to amend state law to require efficiency standards for toilets and urinals of 1.3 and 0.5 gallons per flush, respectively. Current federal law sets limits on these devices of 1.6 and 1 gpf, respectively.

The Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors-National Association has taken the lead role in opposing the new ultra-stringent requirements for the state, which would far outstrip federal regulations on water usage in toilets and urinals. Lake Coulson, PHCC-NA vice president of government relations, said the group is “pleased” with the veto.

“If you look at the governor's veto statement, PHCC's [arguments against the bill are] pretty much right there in the second paragraph,” Coulson said.

Indeed, the veto message states that, before imposing new mandates on builders and homeowners, “We must conduct a thorough study of the new technology to determine its readiness for widespread use.”

It further points out that the move to the current 1.6- and 1-gpf levels were initially accompanied by numerous consumer complaints and that similar questions have arisen “regarding the toilets required by this bill, includ-ing whether sufficient laboratory testing has verified compatibility with existing infrastructure.”

Jack Sweet, editor of Reeves Journal, contributed to this article.