Performance, Not Prescription

The Plumbing Manufacturers Institute fully agrees with Julius Ballanco (“No Lead Is Good Lead,” January 2008) that it is not the amount of lead in the faucet that counts, but the amount of lead in the water flowing through that faucet.

Mr. Ballanco is correct in saying that prescriptive legislative efforts seeking to restrict the amount of lead in plumbing products to a specific concentration, such as the 0.25 percent maximum in California AB 1953, have “no bearing on the amount of lead that will leach into the drinking water.” That is why PMI continues to believe that performance, as defined by NSF 61 -- not prescription, in the form of legislative mandates - is the best way to guarantee the quality and safety of faucets.

That is also why the members of PMI vigorously opposed AB 1953, actively and personally working against it until the day Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the bill into law in September 2007. It is simply not true that “rather than fighting it, [the faucet manufacturers] decided to acquiesce with the legislation in the hopes of finding the necessary loopholes to comply.”

PMI invested a great deal of time, money and manpower to defeat this bill. A swat team of six manufacturer members traveled to Sacramento with me to meet with legislators and testify on several occasions. Senior- level executives from PMI member-companies were in contact with Gov. Schwarzenegger’s office. We wrote numerous letters and built a coalition of 13 other groups to contest the bill. It was a huge, all-out effort.

Still, we lost. Why? Because, as Mr. Ballanco accurately writes, the only level of lead acceptable to most Americans is zero. Our California testimony was based on the contention that the NSF 61 protocol is a superior way to evaluate products and protect consumers against lead. But the legislators did not agree. They insisted upon imposing what they feel is an extra level of protection in the form of prescriptive legislation.

In the wake of AB 1953, PMI proposed a companion bill that is now under consideration, SB 651, that strengthens the new law and aids compliance by clarifying terms and definitions. Different manufacturers will respond to the legislation in different ways on the path to finding robust alternatives to lead. But our proposed bill also includes a requirement for third-party certification and enforcement to assure a truly level playing field for everyone.

Finally, Mr. Ballanco contends that maintaining separate product lines for California and the rest of the nation is not a hardship for most manufacturers. Two different lines - maybe. What happens when other states follow California’s example, and those two lines mushroom into four, six, eight or 10? (Massachusetts and Vermont are already considering lead-reduction bills.) Everyone in the chain of distribution, including the consumer, will suffer because of the increased product costs to develop and maintain all these well-intentioned variations.

The PMI board of directors and its membership are, therefore, working on model legislation to encourage other states to follow a template, so that there is uniformity in their anti-lead laws. We hope that our template will be seriously considered, if not embraced, by any state contemplating legislation. And if the model law eventually finds its way to Washington, D.C., so much the better.

Barbara C. Higgens
Executive Director
Plumbing Manufacturers Institute
Rolling Meadows, Ill.