Tightening lead leaching standards for new drinking water fixtures – Opportunity for public comment

Tom Neltner, J.D. is the Chemicals Policy Director

Update: On May 11, 2020, EDF and EWG jointly filed comments to NSF International supporting proposed changes to the NSF/ANSI/CAN 61 Standard.

We have a legacy of lead in our pipes, our paint, and our soil. These are the most significant sources of human lead exposure and, therefore, draw most of the attention and resources because they are costly to fix. It is also important to limit lead from new sources to avoid adding to that environmental burden. For that reason, EDF has sought, as part of our larger efforts, to reduce the amount of lead that leaches from new plumbing devices such as faucets and fountains.

Thanks to the leadership of California Assembly Member Chris Holden, a collaboration with Environmental Working Group, and a productively and collaboratively engaged Plumbing Manufacturers International (PMI), the trade association that represents the manufacturers that provide 90% of the plumbing products sold in the United States, we are seeing real progress from our efforts. We wanted to update you on two parallel, but related, developments:

  • A proposal to revise the current U.S. consensus national standard NSF/ANSI/CAN 61; and
  • California Assembly Bill AB 2060 to revise 116875 of the California Health and Safety Code.

These changes are needed because the current federal limit of 0.25% of lead by weight is insufficient to ensure that lead levels in drinking water are as low as possible, especially during the first few weeks of use before they are conditioned to the water. With these changes, buyers will be able to identify and purchase new devices that should meet the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended action level of one part per billion.

If all goes as anticipated, the more stringent NSF standard will be in place by the end of the year, manufacturers will begin the process of certifying products to the more protective lead limits, and there will be sufficient certified devices on the market in California to meet the anticipated demand from child care centers.

Proposal to revise NSF/ANSI/CAN 61 standard to tighten lead leaching requirements

The joint committee that manages the NSF/ANSI/CAN 61 standard published a request for public comments (see page 64) on April 3 for proposed revisions to, or comments on the standard by May 18. EDF supports the proposed changes to the NSF standard as does PMI and NSF. We anticipate that the joint committee will be able to review the comments and revise the standard as early as August 2020.

The proposal reduces the limit on lead leaching – known as the Q or R statistic – so that it is more protective. The limit would be 0.5 microgram (µg) of lead for supply stops, flexible plumbing connectors, and miscellaneous components – down from the current limit of 3 µg. For all other endpoint devices including faucets and fountains, the new limit would be 1 µg instead of the current 5 µg – a five-fold reduction.

Buyers would be able to recognize more protective devices by looking for “NSF/ANSI/CAN 61: Q ≤ 1” or “NSF/ANSI/CAN 61: Q ≤ 0.5” as appropriate on the consumer-facing product label.

When the proposed revision is final, plumbing manufacturers will be able to voluntarily submit their devices to third-party certifiers such as NSF International to demonstrate that they meet the more protective limits referenced in the standard. On January 1, 2024, all newly-manufactured devices must meet the more protective limits to be certified under the standard. All states require NSF/ANSI/CAN 61 certification for devices sold in the state.

By allowing voluntary certification right away, plumbing manufacturers will be able to meet the anticipated demand for more protective devices as soon as possible.

The proposed change to the NSF/ANSI/CAN 61 standard is stronger than the one considered by the joint committee last year because it would become mandatory in 2024. However, it lacks the additional limit on lead levels in samples collected on the third day of the testing in the previous proposal. As a member of the task group that developed both the current and the previous proposal, EDF agreed to drop the Day 3 limit because it had little additional impact and would have slowed the certification process.

The proposal is open for public comment until May 18. Let Tom Neltner know if you are interested in submitting supportive comments or have concerns. EDF will be commenting.

California Assembly Bill AB 2060 introduced to revise the state’s Health and Safety Code

In December 2019, we highlighted a request by the California Water Board sent to more than 300 plumbing manufacturers to voluntarily provide information on fixtures that would be able to meet the more protective lead leaching limit. The Board’s intent was to make this information available to the 14,000 certified child care centers (but not home-based child care) newly required to test for lead in water. But manufacturers concluded they were not lawfully able to provide such information because their products were not certified to meet the tighter limit. This left child care facilities concerned they would buy replacement faucets and fountains that would fail anticipated state limits on lead in their drinking water.

Recognizing the challenge, Assembly Member Holder introduced AB 2060 in February to amend Section 116875 of the California Health and Safety Code by tightening the Q and R statistic for endpoint devices to 1 µg. EDF and the Environmental Working Group cosponsored the bill.

The bill builds on California’s track record of leadership on NSF/ANSI/CAN 61, including when, in 2006, it passed a law that limited the lead content of plumbing fixtures to 0.25%. Congress eventually nationalized this limit in 2011.

On March 10, the Assembly’s Committee on Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials held a hearing and passed the bill unanimously. PMI testified on the bill supporting the approach but seeking a delay in the effective date of the new limit to January 1, 2024. The next step is for the bill to go to the Committee on Appropriations.

Summary

EDF began looking more closely at the NSF/ANSI/CAN 61 standard more than two years ago when we found that replacement faucets installed during our child care pilot project exceeded limits recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. It has been a long process, but we are seeing real progress towards strengthening protections for lead in new fixtures – which would ultimately reduce children’s exposure to lead from drinking water.

We are pleased to see that plumbing manufacturers and NSF are gearing up to move quickly in getting their products voluntarily certified to meet the tighter standard in order to meet the urgent need that child care centers and schools face to identify faucets and fountains that leach the least amount of lead. Therefore, EDF strongly supports proposed revisions to the NSF/ANSI 61/CAN standard as well as the CA bill AB 2060.

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