As you make plumbing-product selections for your facilities, keep your eye on California. A new law there will take effect next year; eventually, its stipulations could be turned into laws in other states as well.
As of Jan 1., 2010, California Assembly Bill 1953 (also known as AB1953 or the California Lead Plumbing Law) will mandate that any product that dispenses/conveys water for human consumption in a California building -
including faucets, bubblers, glass and pot fillers, and any other products that provide water for drinking and/or cooking - be lead free.
There has been confusion in the industry about the term "lead free" and what it really means: "It's true that ‘lead free' is defined as: ‘... not more than 0.2-percent lead when used with respect to solder and flux, and not more than a weighted average of 0.25 percent when used with respect to the wetted surfaces of pipes and pipe fittings, plumbing fittings, and fixtures,‘ " says Shahin Moinian, senior director at the Ontario, CA-based Intl. Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials' (IAPMO) Research & Testing Laboratory. So, "lead free" doesn't mean the product is completely void of lead - it means that the amounts used in the product will be diminutive.
According to Ken Martin, director of commercial business at Indianapolis-based Delta Faucet Co., current standards allow for 8-percent lead by weight for pipe and pipe fittings, and 4-percent lead for other plumbing fittings (faucets, etc.). Because 100 percent of lead poisoning is caused by unnecessary environmental contaminants, and there is no known "safe" exposure level for lead in plumbing fixtures when it comes to human health (according to Ann Arbor, MI-based NSF Intl.), this new law eliminates it.
As a result of AB1953, any product being installed or repaired that delivers water to a building in California for human consumption must receive certification from an independent, ANSI-approved, third-party testing organization. Any affected manufacturer, as well as the third-party organization that tested the products, should be capable of presenting appropriate documentation. As a facilities professional, you'll want to make a concerted effort to ensure that, starting in 2010, the products being installed in your California buildings meet the new AB1953 requirements. "[Facilities professionals] should request compliance information from all of their product suppliers whose products are covered within the statute," says Martin.
This mandate won't affect any existing plumbing fixtures, so you're safe in terms of what's already installed in your facilities. But, beginning in 2010 in California, when old fixtures are replaced - or when new ones are added - they must be replaced or fitted with lead-free fixtures.
Some FMs might panic about plumbing durability and quality as they learn that lead won't be part of these products, but Moinian emphasizes that all applicable pipe, pipe fittings, and fixtures must meet existing performance standards, as well as the additional requirements of the California Lead Plumbing Law. Martin agrees; in some cases, he thinks the new lead-free plumbing products could be even more durable and reliable.
Leah B. Garris (firstname.lastname@example.org) is managing editor at Buildings magazine.