Getting The Lead Out Of Water Systems
Lead piping and flux/solder welds have been used in residential and commercial buildings for over 100 years. When copper replaced lead as the piping material of choice, lead/tin solder and flux were still used to join copper piping, which kept lead in potable water piping systems, until recently.
Unfortunately, lead-bearing materials have been found to be toxic. Lead oxides become soluble, then leach into and contaminate groundwater and potable water left standing in piping containing lead.
Over the past few years, states have started to write legislation and code to phase out lead content from pipe, pipe fittings, and fixtures conveying potable water. On January 1, 2010, legislation in California (AB1953) and Vermont (S152) mandated that, after January 1, 2010, all lead-free products that convert drinking water must contain no more than 0.25% lead content in waterway components.
We’ve heard lots of questions regarding the California and Vermont legislation and wanted to provide some answers. Hear are just a few:
- What legislation currently regulates the amount of lead in drinking water? The amount of lead in drinking water has been regulated by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) under the guidelines of the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act. This legislation was passed by congress in 1974, and amended in 1986 and 1996. It defines “lead free” as not more than 8% lead with respect to pipes and fittings and not more than 4% by dry weight with respect to plumbing fittings and fixtures.
- What is CA AB 1953 and VT S.152 and how are they different from previous low-lead legislation? The California and Vermont will substantially reduce the definition of lead-fee to 0.25% starting in 2010.
- What does it mean to have ANSI Certification for lead free plumbing products? The lead-free legislation passed in California and Vermont requires companies that ship plumbing products into these states must comply with NSF/ANSI Standard 61. Drinking Water System Components, Annex G.
- What is NSF/ANSI 61 Annex G? NSF/ANSI Standard 61 includes criteria for testing and evaluating products to ensure they do not leach contaminants into the water that would be a health concern. Annex G is a procedure for evaluating the weighted average lead content. Products must meet NSF/ANSI 61 criteria as well as Annex G criteria to obtain certification. Annex G was developed for the purpose of offering an evaluation method for products to be certified as complying with the California Health & Safety Code (Section 116875; commonly referred to as AB1953). While this was developed for California, this method is also available for any other states that have equivalent legislation, such as Vermont S.152.
- How does lead get into drinking water right now? Primary sources for trace amounts of lead in drinking water are aging infrastructures, such as old pipes and plumbing systems parts. The Plumbing Manufacturer’s Institute (PMI) states that over the past decade, lead levels in plumbing fixture fittings have been reduced to insignificant levels due to improvements in modern manufacturing processes. But how much of the old infrastructure remains?
- How does lead content in my system affect me? Water is a solvent. As such, water will absorb metals, minerals, and chemicals that it comes in contact with over a period of time. A system that has brass waterways can be susceptible to this process. Water sitting in your system can leach the lead out of the brass fittings, lead piping, and lead solder and enter your water used for drinking and cooking.
- What are the other states doing? A map provided by ITT Bell & Gossett illustrates lead-free legislative activities at http://www.bellgossett.com/lead-free.html
- Where can I go for more information? There are a number of websites which can provide additional information, including:
- NSF International FAQ
- Plumbing Manufacturers Institute
- International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO)
- Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association (PHCC)
- U.S. EPA Safe Drinking Water website
- World Health Organization info on lead poisoning
What do you think of the lead-free legislation in California and Vermont?