BY ROBERT P. MADER
OF CONTRACTOR'S STAFF
SACRAMENTO, CALIF. — Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Sept. 30 signed into law Assembly Bill 1953, which reduces the allowable amount of lead in faucets to 0.25%. Plumbing manufacturers said that a brass faucet doesn't exist that can meet the standard, and they are skeptical whether one can ever be made.
"The Plumbing Manufacturers Institute is disappointed with the passage AB1953 by the California legislature," Executive Director Barbara C. Higgens said. "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.
"Rather than being grounded in sound science, the bill is based upon a number of misconceptions and discounts the value and use of the performance-based NSF 61 standard in measuring product safety. Since faucets are already highly regulated and are safe for consumers, there is no need for this new California regulation."
The bill employs an arbitrary and flawed formula, Higgens said, to determine lead content in faucets. Despite claims to the contrary by proponents of AB1953, no faucets currently manufactured can comply with the requirements of the bill, which is set to go into effect in 2010, she said. While there are lower-lead alloys on the market such as bismuth, these materials are effectively used only in simple-to-manufacture products such as water meters. No replacement alloy is appropriate for the mechanical demands of a faucet.
Higgens told CONTRACTOR that the American Foundry Society recently held a meeting on the faucet issue and determined that a replacement alloy for brass faucets does not exist.
The meeting of about 50 metal industry experts took place in September at American Foundry Society headquarters, said Jim Mallory, executive director of the Non-Ferrous Founders Society, a participant in the meeting. The meeting identified several areas of concern.
The alloys in question are seleniumbismuth, Mallory said. The metals industry isn't sure if there's enough bismuth being mined in the world to replace all the leaded brass faucets that are sold in the United States.
Moreover, the brass market is heavily dependent on scrap, but leaded brass scrap could not be commingled with selenium-bismuth brass scrap. What would happen to the scrap market and scrap prices, Mallory wondered. Bismuth is selling today for about $5 a pound while lead costs pennies per pound.
Finally, Mallory said, the manufacturers that have experimented with selenium-bismuth brass have noticed that the products can develop cracks over a period of one to five years. The short-and long-term durability of selenium-bismuth brass products is unknown, he said.
PMI pointed out that the bill contains a massive loophole that is not in the interest of consumers — AB1953 contains a specific provision that exempts products in the water system that not only contain the highest levels of lead but are also the least regulated under the current national testing and certification framework.
The bill states: "No person shall introduce into commerce, for use in California, any pipe, pipe or plumbing fitting, or fixture intended to convey or dispense water for human consumption through drinking water or cooking that is not lead free, as defined in subdivision (e). This includes kitchen faucets, bathroom faucets, and any other end-use devices intended to convey or dispense water for human consumption through drinking or cooking."
The bill, however, creates a 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 above. The amendment allows service saddles and gate valves 2 in. and larger to contain 8% lead.
"This leaves many questions open with respect to the aim of the bill as well as the public's interest, and we look forward to future and well-informed debate on this issue," Higgens said.
The governor's office portrayed the bill as a public health measure.
"Protecting public health is a top priority," Schwarzenegger said. "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."
By signing this bill, the current limit of up to 8% lead in pipes and plumbing fixtures will be reduced to 0.25%, the governor's office said in a statement. "Lead exposure is a particular concern with its effect on developing children. According to the California Department of Health Services, lead poisoning can cause irreversible damage to the developing brains and organ systems of young children, especially those under 6 years of age."
Higgens said she did not know what the manufacturers' next move will be, although the group had a board of directors' meeting scheduled during its annual meeting Oct.8-11 in Washington.
"Part of it, too, is that I've got some ideas up my sleeve and I hate to tip our hand," Higgens said
It may be possible to negotiate an extension of the implementation date of 2010, she said.
"Our position doesn't change and the facts don't change," Higgens said. "The situation doesn't change. They have enacted a law we can't comply with."
The implementation date was pushed from its original 2008 to 2010, but a new alloy would have to be developed and tested. If the initial substitutes fail in testing, she pointed out, it's back to square one.