Lead-free sooner rather than later

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As Senior Editor Candace Roulo so ably reported in our November 2012 issue, the Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act, which was signed into law by President Barack Obama on Jan. 4, 2011, reduces the permissible levels of lead in wetted surfaces of faucets, pipes and pipe fittings to 0.25% from the previous national standard of 8.0% maximum. The federal law was spearheaded by Plumbing Manufacturers International (PMI), based upon the template of a California law generally referred to as AB 1953. Prior to the federal legislation, Vermont, Maryland and Louisiana have also individually adopted the lower lead mandate.

The people at NIBCO were talking to an engineer at the recent American Society of Plumbing Engineers Engineered Plumbing Exposition in Charlotte, N.C., and asked him if he was specifying lead-free plumbing products. He had not, the engineer responded, because the local code officials hadn’t said anything about it. What? It’s soon to be federal law.

As Senior Editor Candace Roulo so ably reported on the front page of this issue, the Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act, which was signed into law by President Barack Obama on Jan. 4, 2011, reduces the permissible levels of lead in wetted surfaces of faucets, pipes and pipe fittings to 0.25% from the previous national standard of 8.0% maximum.  The federal law was spearheaded by Plumbing Manufacturers International (PMI), based upon the template of a California law generally referred to as AB 1953. Prior to the federal legislation, Vermont, Maryland and Louisiana have also individually adopted the lower lead mandate.

PMI’s interest in pushing the lead-free legislation was two-fold: to achieve uniformity across the country, and to head off any attempts to make the standard stricter than 0.25% lead.

The manufacturers we talked to at the ASPE-EPE aren’t waiting to convert their products to lead-free. Why run the risk of being stuck with stock that you can’t sell at the beginning of 2014?

Zurn Engineered Water Solutions has converted all of its products to lead free, Zurn’s Wilkins Div. Senior Director of Marketing and Product Development Rick Fields told us at the ASPE Show. The last of Zurn’s leaded product is wending its way through distribution.

“I would like to encourage all of the manufacturers to get on board,” Fields said. He emphasized the need for the industry to get the word out to everyone in the distribution channels — contractors, engineers, wholesalers and plumbing inspectors.

“This is a sea change,” Fields said.

NIBCO has converted its plumbing valves over to a lead-free silicon brass, Mark Hamilton, NIBCO vice president of sales and marketing told us. The company’s lead-free products are being sold under the HydroPure brand name and include a crossed double oval mark cast into the valve body.

NIBCO is also distinguishing its lead free products with white valve handles and wheels and blue hang tags, said Aaron W. Edds, product manager for valves and actuation. There are no industry standards on colors or packaging for lead free products  — although that would have been helpful — but it’s too late for that now, Edds noted.

Canadian component supplier Dahl Bros. has converted all of its product to lead free, said Vice President of Sales Thomas Husebye. Dahl Brothers assembles components for modular assemblies, so a contractor can, for example, order 500 valves and specify different inlet and outlets, joining methods or handles and Dahl will assemble them as specified. The company is selling its product under the Dahl Eco brand name using a silicon brass alloy.

Stiebel Eltron’s Frank Stiebel told us at ASPE that all of the fittings on his company’s water heaters were converted to lead free last year. Conbraco’s Apollo Valve division has converted all of its popular mixing valves and ball valves, as well as backflow preventers to lead free, as well as some of its gate, globe and check valves.

The only issue up for debate is whether a company should convert 100% of its product line to lead free. The law exempts valves used in irrigation, fire protection and HVAC. One manufacturer told use that since so many valves could be used for more than one purpose, they should all be lead-free because they might end up in a potable water system. Another manufacturer told us that it is simply not cost-effective for a manufacturer to convert all of its production to a more-expensive lead-free alloy.

The law takes effect in January of 2014, so this is an ongoing issue. As Candace reports, the Get the Lead Out Consortium met in Chicago at the end of August and it will meet again on November 9 at the headquarters of the Plumbing Manufacturers International.

The Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Educational Foundation is helping out together a training program that manufacturers will conduct. Look for the training from your suppliers in 2013.

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Robert Mader

Bob Mader is the editor of CONTRACTOR magazine, Green Mechanical Contractor magazine, and Radiant Living magazine. He has been writing about plumbing, mechanical, green building and HVACR topics for...
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