The national lead-free law that went into effect in January 2014 arrived with a certain amount of confusion tied to it. What does “lead free” really mean? What constitutes a pipe, pipe fitting, plumbing fitting, or fixture? How are lead-free products identified? How is the law enforced?
I attempted to address those questions in advance of the rule’s deadline and soon after it was enacted, and hopefully the majority of municipalities and installers of plumbing products are currently in full compliance. However, continued awareness of the rule and its nuances is required as pipes and fittings are periodically taken out of service for replacement. This latest edition in the “Lead Free” series serves as a guidepost for ongoing compliance.
For a new, expert perspective on the topic, I sought out Pete Greiner, technical manager of water systems programs for NSF International. Alongside the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), NSF has been at the forefront of the development of standards and certification for the lead-free rule. Greiner’s responses in the Q&A below, backed by his informed position, should help keep you on the right side of the law.
Can you provide some background on the lead-free law? What products are impacted?
The Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act significantly reduced the amount of lead allowed in plumbing products that contact drinking water. The law redefined the term “lead free” in the U.S. Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) from a maximum of 8 percent down to no more than a weighted average content of 0.25 percent. The SDWA requires all pipe, pipe and plumbing fittings, and fixtures used in the installation or repair of drinking water systems to meet this lead-free requirement. The law went into effect in January of this year following a three-year implementation period. Similar laws have been in place in California and Vermont since 2010.
What are the latest developments?
Aside from a last-minute update to include fire hydrants in the list of exempted devices, the law went into effect this year as first signed into law three years prior. For manufacturers of products operating nationally, I expect most are in a good position for having products available, as they’ve been working toward its implementation for more than five years. For smaller or regional manufacturers, plumbing suppliers, and installers, the challenge is greater as the requirement may be new to them. I suspect many also have to question the inventories of plumbing products purchased prior to 2014 to determine whether or not they meet the new lead-free requirements of the law. Availability of complying products, discerning whether inventories comply, and education on the law are all aspects of an implementation period that I expect will be experienced for several years to come.
What should be done with older plumbing inventory that may not meet lead-free requirements?
I can only say what shouldn’t be done with plumbing components. The U.S. EPA has made it clear through their FAQ on the law that non-complying inventory purchased prior to the law’s enactment are not exempt from the law and are not to be used in the installation or repair of drinking water systems after the January 2014 effective date. The U.S. EPA FAQ also provides guidance to manufactures, retailers, and installers on the law.
What’s the difference between NSF/ANSI Standard 61: Drinking Water System Components — Health Effects and NSF/ANSI 372: Drinking Water System Components — Lead Content?
NSF/ANSI 61 addresses all of the potential leachates from plumbing products, not just lead. Although it does have a requirement that products comply with the lead-free requirements of the SDWA, it’s primarily considered a leachate-based test looking for the release of any contaminants to drinking water (metals or organics) to assure that any leaching is below drinking water criteria. By contrast, NSF/ANSI 372 only addresses the lead content of drinking water products and is used to provide assurance that they meet the new lead-free definitions of state and federal law.
How are NSF/ANSI Standards 61 and 372 and the U.S. Safe Drinking Water Act linked?
NSF/ANSI 372 is a stand-alone test method, only verifying lead content. It has no requirement for products to also comply with NSF/ANSI 61. NSF/ANSI 61, on the other hand, has a broad range of requirements addressing potential chemical contaminants that may leach from products; in those cases where a weighted average lead content is required by the standard, it specifies that it be performed in accordance with NSF/ANSI 372.
Many of your readers may be familiar with Annex G of NSF/ANSI 61. This is where the procedures for determining lead content were first housed before they were transferred to NSF/ANSI 372. When the requirements were housed in Annex G of NSF/ANSI 61, the optional annex required products to comply with both NSF 61 as well as the new lead-free requirements. Many manufacturers continue to use the NSF 61-G as an indicator of compliance with both.
The lead-free requirements of the law and the extraction requirements of NSF/ANSI 61 work well together. One is limiting the available lead in products, and the other is to assure that there isn’t unexpected lead release issue from them. We find that even “lead free” products can extract unacceptable levels of lead. Although counter-intuitive, there are several reasons for this. First, some “lead free” products have leaded materials. As long as the weighted average lead content of the entire product doesn’t exceed 0.25 percent, the product will meet the definition of “lead free.” Another example is products that have a lot of low-lead brass or bronze material. The cumulative effects of the large surface areas can result in higher lead release to water. Additionally, manufacturing processes can also add lead contamination. Even after manufacturers convert to low-lead materials, it can take a while for them to work the lead out of production. Yet another example we run into occurs when manufacturers receive materials they thought to be lead-free that aren’t.
Why are some products tested and certified against NSF/ANSI Standard 61, while others are tested and certified against NSF/ANSI Standard 372?
Some products fall outside the scope of NSF/ANSI 61 that are installed in plumbing systems, such as faucet-mount and under-sink point-of-use drinking water treatment products and plumbed-in coffee machines. For products that fall outside the scope of NSF/ANSI 61 or for jurisdictions only requiring NSF 372, the standard can be applied on its own. More information is available on NSF’s website at: http://www.nsf.org/services/by-industry/water-wastewater/plumbing-fixtures/lead-content-compliance.
How can you identify products that have met these requirements?
Products complying with these requirements should bear a mark of the certifier denoting the certification. Prior to 2014, the 0.25-percent weighted average lead content test was optional under NSF/ANSI 61. Products manufactured before this date required an additional certification marking to show compliance with the current law. Products certified by NSF are indicated either by the “Certified to NSF/ANSI 61-G” or “Certified to NSF/ANSI 61 and 372” mark. Many plastics products use the NSF pw-G mark. A listing of all products certified to these standards can be accessed through our web listing at www.nsf.org.
Image credit: "For the want of a fixture" graphiclunarkid © 2010, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/