EDF Health

Selected tag(s): NSF

Getting lead out of brass and bronze food equipment

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

Many people may not be aware that lead is still added to brass and bronze used to make drinking water faucets and food equipment like coffee brewers and more. This is problematic because lead can leach into the water and beverages from the equipment – putting consumers at risk. As part of EDF’s efforts to reduce exposure to lead from all sources, we have advocated to stop this use of the heavy metal.

Last June, our three-year effort yielded results when the committee responsible for the national consensus standard for plumbing devices, known as NSF/ANSI/CAN 61, made its lead leaching standard five times more protective for endpoint devices – from 5 to 1 parts per billion. Endpoint devices are faucets, drinking water fountains and other devices installed within the last one liter of water distribution systems in a building. For all other plumbing devices, lead is limited to the amount added to the device’s material, 2500 parts per million (ppm) [1], and leaching limit does not apply.

This fall, we turned our attention to lead leaching into drinking water from food equipment such as ice machines, coffee brewers, teapots, and water heaters. We have submitted petitions to NSF International and to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) asking them to prohibit use of lead in brass and bronze commonly used in these devices.

For food equipment, we leveraged the more protective safety standards for food contact substances in the Food Additives Amendment of 1958. These standards require that additives not be used unless there is a reasonable certainty of no harm from their intended use after taking into account related substances in the diet. It also prohibits use of carcinogens. Lead is unsafe under both these restrictions because it is a carcinogen and no safe threshold has been found for lead in the blood to prevent neurologic development harm in children and heart disease in adults.

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Revised national standard tightens lead leaching limits for new drinking water fixtures

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

In September 2020, the joint committee posted an announcement on its revised NSF/ANSI/CAN 61 standard.

Effective today, the national consensus standard for plumbing devices, known as NSF/ANSI/CAN 61, was revised to require, by January 1, 2024, that manufacturers of faucets and fountains that dispense drinking water meet limits five times more protective for lead leaching than the current standard. Manufacturers have the option to have their products tested and certified to the revised standard beginning in the fall, after it is published. All states require plumbing devices comply NSF/ANSI/CAN 61.

Plumbing Manufacturers International (PMI), the trade association for the industry, tells us that its members are already gearing up to get their products certified, but that it will take time to complete the third-party review process and meet the expected demand. Consumers, retailers, and institutional buyers should begin requesting products that meet the new standard – which can be identified by the new “NSF/ANSI/CAN 61: Q ≤ 1”[1] text on the consumer-facing product label – in 2021 as the certification process ramps up.

A driving force for this change was legislation introduced by California Assembly Member Chris Holden, cosponsored by EDF and Environmental Working Group, with productive and collaborative engagement from PMI and NSF International.[2] On June 8, the Assembly unanimously passed AB 2060. It now moves to the Senate for consideration. The current version of the bill would require that all devices made or sold in California that are intended to convey or dispense drinking water meet the new NSF/ANSI/CAN 61 standard on a faster timeline – by January 1, 2021. PMI has requested an effective date of January 1, 2024 for the California requirement to provide manufacturers, third party certifiers, distributors, and retailers with adequate time to get products certified and in stock in the state. Stakeholders are considering the request but are concerned that child care facilities and schools will need the devices sooner. Because of the legislation, we expect that manufacturers, wholesalers, and retailers will prioritize the California market.

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Which faucets and fixtures have the lowest lead levels? California asks plumbing manufacturers.

Tom Neltner, J.D. is the Chemicals Policy Director and Lindsay McCormick is a Program Manager.

Until California Water Board publishes its lists of fixtures that leach minimal lead, we recommend that schools and child care facilities routinely flush newly installed drinking water fixtures for several weeks and retest before allowing children to consume the water.

In November, the California Water Board took an important step that should benefit anyone seeking to buy a new faucet, drinking water fountain or other fixture – especially schools and child care facilities. The Board sent letters to more than 300 plumbing manufacturers and certifiers asking them to voluntarily provide information on fixtures that leach minimal lead. Specifically, it seeks to identify fixtures that meet lead leaching limits that are five times more protective than the current limits in the NSF/ANSI 61 standard.

The Board plans to make the compiled responses publicly available and encourage the 14,000 licensed child care centers in the state to buy new fixtures from those on the list when water testing indicates the fixture should be replaced. We anticipate that the Board will utilize the list to identify fixtures to purchase through a $5 million grant program the California State General Legislature established when it enacted AB-2370 last year. The funds are designed to help licensed child care facilities meet the state’s new mandated water testing and remediation program.

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Lead from new “lead-free” brass faucets? An update on progress

Tom Neltner, J.D. is the Chemicals Policy Director and Lindsay McCormick is a Program Manager.

[Update: On 10/23/19, the NSF committee responsible for revising NSF 61 tentatively agreed to tighten the limits on lead leaching from new faucets and drinking fountains. The committee will move forward with a formal vote and, if approved, will receive public comment on the proposed changes.]

Last year, we discovered and reported in a blog, that some new brass faucets that meet existing standards and are labelled “lead-free” can still leach significant amounts of lead into water in the first few weeks of use. Here, we answer some questions that have come up and provide an update on efforts to revise the NSF/ANSI 61 standard to better protect and inform consumers.

Last November, the committee responsible for revising the NSF/ANSI 61 standard convened a group to consider an optional certification for faucets that meet a more protective limit. A study of more than 500 models of faucets showed that 73% of faucets leach less lead into water and can meet a limit that is five times more protective for children. However, currently there is no easy way to identify these “lower lead” models. The optional certification would enable consumers, schools, and child care facilities to identify and purchase faucets that leach less lead to drinking water.

Unfortunately, as described later in this blog, representatives of the brass faucet manufacturers have worked to block the optional certification. As of August 2019, the committee has not decided whether to move forward with a proposal for the optional certification to receive public notice and comment. If the committee fails to move forward, we anticipate that some major retailers that sell brass faucets and other major buyers such as school districts and builders would use their leverage to set higher standards in their purchasing specification that favors models performing better on the NSF/ANSI 61 lead leaching test.

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Lead from a new “lead-free” brass faucet? More common than you’d hope

Tom Neltner, J.D. is the Chemicals Policy Director and Lindsay McCormick is a Project Manager.

Until NSF/ANSI 61 standard is updated to reduce or eliminate lead leaching, users must extensively clean and flush new brass fixtures before use and make a short flush standard practice for older fixtures.

During this past year, we undertook a pilot project to tackle the problem of lead in drinking water at child care facilities. As part of the effort, we collected 250 mL samples (about 8 ounces of water) from every drinking water fixture, as recommended in the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) 3Ts guidance for schools and child care facilities. We replaced 26 faucets that exceeded our action level with new brass faucets that were labeled “lead-free” and complied with NSF/ANSI 61 standard for drinking water system components.[1] To our surprise, when we sampled the faucets a few days after replacement, the lead levels were higher– between 9 and 10 ppb – on three of the new faucets.

The increase left us scratching our heads. Federal law allows a drinking water fixture to be labeled “lead-free” if the amount of lead in wetted surfaces[2] averages less than 0.25% (down from the 8% limit between 1986 and 2014). However, it isn’t clear how much this amount might contribute to levels of lead in water. To explore this issue, we contacted the supplier who said its product was certified under NSF/ANSI 61 and, therefore, not likely the source. The supplier suggested the source could be from existing upstream valves or from disturbing the plumbing. We could not rule these other possibilities out.

A study by Virginia Tech’s Jeff Parks on three models of new NSF/ANSI 61 certified brass faucets found similar results and concluded that even newly manufactured “lead-free” faucets may not meet the 1 ppb limit that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends for schools.

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