Adapting codes to the federal lead law
Legislation Meets Regulation
Since the EPA’s Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act hit the plumbing industry with the subtlety of an elephant in a subway car, those impacted by it have been scrambling to understand what it means for them and how to adapt. Manufacturers are modifying their products to comply with the new legislation and installers are working diligently to ensure the materials they are using are appropriate. This adaptation had the potential to be a bit quirky for the code enforcement community. However, the codes already in place did not contain provisions that reflected the requirements of the new law.
The desire for a universal law was prompted by several states enacting different reduced lead levels in products. The industry acted to promote a federal law to unify the new level nationally allowing standardized manufacturing of products to comply. Since 1986, the Safe Drinking Water Act has prohibited the use of certain items that are not lead-free and, since 1996, the Act has made it unlawful for anyone to introduce into commerce items that are not lead-free. The Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act Bill was signed on Jan. 4, 2011 to amend Section 1417 of the Safe Drinking Water Act respecting the use and introduction into commerce of lead pipes, plumbing fittings or fixtures, solder and flux. The Act established a prospective effective date of Jan. 4, 2014, which provided a three-year time frame for affected parties to transition to the new requirements.
Understanding the law
The first step in complying with the law is having a basic understanding of what the law means. Section 1417 of the Safe Drinking Water Act (42 U.S.C. 300g–6) was amended by Senate Bill 3874 - 2010 (http://1.usa.gov/11pghnl). This bill changed the definition of lead-free in the Safe Drinking Water Act from not more than eight percent lead to not more than a weighted average of 0.25 percent.
Section 1417(a)(1) prohibits the “use of any pipe, any pipe or plumbing fitting or fixture, any solder, or any flux, after June 1986, in the installation or repair of (i) any public water system; or (ii) any plumbing in a residential or non-residential facility providing water for human consumption, that is not lead free” as defined in Section 1417(d). Prior to the 2011 Amendments, the only exception to this prohibition was for “leaded joints necessary for the repair of cast iron pipes.”
Plumbing fittings and fixtures are no longer required to comply with voluntary standards such as Section 9 of NSF Standard 61. This raises the question, are plumbing codes required by federal law to reference a standard for third-party certification compliance? No. After Jan. 4, 2014, the EPA does not regulate compliance to any voluntary standards to the new definition of lead-free. What is required is the calculation method prescribed in the amended Safe Drinking Water Act. This allows third-party certifiers to determine the most appropriate testing protocol for each product when using the calculation method. Protocols, such as those included in California law, or NSF 372 can be used as tools in helping to make this determination.
Effective Jan. 4, 2014, “lead-free” means:
- not containing 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 lead when used with respect to the wetted surfaces of pipes, pipe fittings, plumbing fittings and fixtures.
Codes are Adapting
Now the deadline has come and gone and some of the model plumbing codes are finishing up their natural code cycles and preparing for new editions, the language in the codes is changing to reflect the new lead law. The soon-to-be released 2015 Uniform Plumbing Code and the 2015 International Plumbing Code are both including provisions designed to coincide with the law and provide code enforcement professionals with the code-based tools they need to do their part in enforcing the lead law.
In the IPC, section 605.2.1 Lead content of drinking water pipe and fittings indicates any piping or fixtures supplying water for drinking or cooking need to “comply with NSF 372 and are to have a weighted average lead content of 0.25 percent or less.” The 2015 UPC will approach addressing the law in a different way by including all of the law’s requirements in the body of the code, which also includes verbiage regarding non-drinking water applications.
At this month’s deadline, (the exact section is subject to change), section 604.2 Lead Content is slated to read:
“The maximum allowable lead content in pipes, pipe fittings, plumbing fittings and fixtures intended to convey or dispense water for human consumption shall be not more than a weighted average of 0.25 percent with respect to the wetted surfaces of pipes, pipe fittings, plumbing fittings and fixtures. For solder and flux, the lead content shall be not more than 0.2 percent where used in piping systems that convey or dispense water for human consumption.
(1) Pipes, pipe fittings, plumbing fittings, fixtures or backflow preventers used for nonpotable services such as manufacturing, industrial processing, irrigation, outdoor watering or any other uses where the water is not used for human consumption.
(2) Flush valves, fill valves, flushometer valves, tub fillers, shower valves, service saddles or water distribution main gate valves that are 2 inches (50 mm) in diameter or larger.”
Section 604.2.1 Lead Content of Water Supply Pipe and Fittings is expected to state:
“Pipes, pipe fittings, valves and faucets utilized in the water supply system for non-drinking water applications shall have a maximum of 8 percent lead content.”
This language virtually mirrors the lead law requirements and provides all of the information designers and code enforcement professionals need to comply with the law.
Out in the real world, this code language has implications for several groups. Installers will need to ensure when installing potable water systems for human consumption, they are using material (pipe, valves, fittings and fixtures) that comply with this language and thus keeps them in compliance with the new lead-free law. In addition to the material, solder and fluxes will also need to comply. Depending on what type of system is being installed, the selection of a flux that is appropriate for a particular LF alloy and being familiar with the different technique needed to solder with the new materials is critical to soldering success. It is highly recommended installers solder test pieces and cut them open to determine solder penetration depth.
Inspectors will need to learn how to identify lead-free components by the universal symbol to verify they are being installed in the proper application. Verification of the proper flux presents a potential verification problem with the inspector, as flux is used in the joining method prior to inspections. A friendly tip for inspectors is to be aware of what plumbing material is stored on the job site and, if possible, take a look in the plumbers soldering tool box.