BY ROBERT P. MADER
OF CONTRACTOR'S STAFF
SACRAMENTO, CALIF. — Nearly 40 years ago, in the movie "The Graduate," Mr. McGuire said to Benjamin Braddock, "I want to say one word to you. Just one word. Are you listening? Plastics."
That soon might be the answer to the question, "What are faucets made out of in California?"
The California legislature Aug. 30 passed AB1953, a bill that would limit the lead content of faucets to 0.25%. The Senate vote was 21-17 with two abstentions and the Assembly vote was 41-35-3.
The Plumbing Manufacturers Institute has been battling the bill since it was introduced six months ago (August, pg. 1). Faucet manufacturers have said none of them can meet the standard with a brass faucet, so if this bill becomes law in 2010, faucets in California would have to be either
plastic or stainless steel.
The bill would have to be signed into law by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, and PMI has already contacted the governor's office to voice its concerns.
The bill makes it illegal to sell any pipe, fitting or fixture that is used for drinking water or cooking that is not lead-free. It specifically mentions kitchen and bathroom faucets.
The bill, however, creates a gaping loophole with an amendment that says the law would exclude service saddles, backflow preventers for non-potable services such as irrigation and industrial, and water distribution main gate valves that are 2 in. in diameter and larger.
The amendment allows service saddles and gate valves 2 in. and larger to contain 8% lead, PMI Technical Director Dave Viola said.
"These products will be exempted from health effects evaluation of NSF 61 as well," Viola said. "These are products provided by water utilities and are in contact with water intended for human consumption. Even more interesting is there appears to be no justification for these exemptions since the no-lead products are already on the market."
Proponents of the legislation claim that industry does not object, citing the input of the California Metals Coalition. The CMC Website identifies it as a coalition of 10,000 California-based die casters, foundries, metal formers, metal fabricators, metal smelters, machine shops, metal extruders, heat treaters and powder coaters.
Four days before the bill passed the California legislature, the Sacramento Bee newspaper editorialized in favor of the law, citing the California Metals Coalition.
The editorial begins clearly addressing the issue of lead in faucets.
"Right before the water reaches the lips of the consumer, it passes through a household faucet and fittings that can contain as much as 8% lead, some of which can leach into the water," the newspaper opines.
Seven paragraphs later, the newspaper states, "Proponents have found at least 24 companies that already meet the standard."
James F. Simonelli, executive director of the California Metals Coalition, told CONTRACTOR that none of those 24 companies that are among his members make faucets. All of them are in the water utility market, he said.
As PMI Executive Director Barb Higgens put it, "It's anecdotes vs. the facts, and the facts are losing."
One of the faucets that was cited during legislative hearings as complying with the standard, Higgens said, is made by Central Brass, a company that hasn't sold in the California market in years.
Simonelli who appears to be either more experienced in the ways of Sacramento than Higgens, or perhaps more jaded, said that issues are debated in Sacramento based on emotions and politics, a fact that exasperates manufacturers who try to cite science in their arguments. The one person who had to learn that politics trumps facts the hard way, Simonelli said, was Gov. Schwarzenegger.
Simonelli also said he believes the lead issue will not go away if the governor vetoes it.
"If it doesn't pass this year, it will be reintroduced and there is a lot of public sentiment in favor of this type of bill," Simonelli said. "The public sees lead is bad, why are you putting lead in my faucet? That's all they see."