On Sept. 1, 2020, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its final regulation on the “Use of Lead-Free Pipes, Fittings, Fixtures, Solder and Flux for Drinking Water.” The rule’s goal is to reduce lead in drinking water and ensure that the industry has a common understanding of “lead-free” plumbing. Now that the regulation is complete, what does this mean for the plumbing industry? Many companies may not completely understand the impact of this new rule on their company – probably because the Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act (RLDWA) was passed back in 2011.
BRIEF LEGISLATIVE HISTORY
In 1986, Congress amended the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), prohibiting the use of lead in pipes, and solder and flux on products used in public water systems that provide water for human consumption. Lead-free was defined as solder and flux with no more than 0.2% lead and pipes with no more than 8%. In 1996, Congress further amended the SDWA, requiring plumbing fittings and fixtures to be in compliance with voluntary lead leaching standards – most notably ANSI/NSF 61-1996: Drinking Water System Components – Health Effects.
In 2011, Congress passed the RLDWA, which revised the definition of lead free and took effect in 2013. Lead free was now defined as the lead content of the wetted surfaces of plumbing products as a weighted average of no greater than 0.25% for products that contact water intended for consumption, and 0.2% for solder and flux. Third-party product certification was not required. The 2011 RLDWA also created exemptions in the SDWA from the use or introduction into commerce of “pipes, pipe fittings, plumbing fittings or fixtures, including backflow preventers, that are used exclusively for non-potable services such as manufacturing, industrial processing, irrigation, outdoor watering, or any other uses where the water is not anticipated to be used for human consumption.” Also exempt were “toilets, bidets, urinals, fill valves, flushometer valves, tub fillers, shower valves, service saddles, or water distribution main gate valves that are 2 inches in diameter or larger.” The Community Fire Safety Act of 2013 further amended the SDWA to include fire hydrants in the list of exempted plumbing devices.
KEY TAKEAWAYS THAT AFFECT THE INDUSTRY
- The final rule mandates third-party certification by ANSI-accredited certification bodies, unless the manufacturer has less than 10 employees. Prior to this, manufacturers were allowed to self-declare compliance.
- New products must be certified prior to market entry.
- Existing products have three years to complete the certification process.
- Allows for self-certification of custom fabricated products.
WHAT PRODUCTS ARE AFFECTED?
Any product sold for installation, or use, in a new system where water passing through the device may be consumed must comply with this final rule. The water sector has applied the RLDWA lead-free requirement broadly to pipe, fittings, fixtures, and appliances used in potable water applications, including plumbed in devices such as drinking water coolers, point-of-entry and point-of-use water treatment products, refrigerator ice and water dispensers, water heaters, water pumps, and coffee makers, among others.
WHAT PRODUCTS ARE NOT AFFECTED?
Products manufactured exclusively for non-potable water applications, such as manufacturing, industrial processing, irrigation, outdoor watering, or other uses where the water is not anticipated to be used for human consumption, are not subject to the statute. Other exclusions include toilets, bidets, urinals, fill valves, flushometer valves, tub fillers, fire hydrants, shower valves, clothes washing machines, emergency drench showers, emergency face wash equipment, and eyewash devices, among others.
WHAT CERTIFICATION DO PRODUCTS NEED?
The EPA recognizes three certification standards as being in compliance with the rule: NSF/ANSI Standard 372: Drinking Water System Components – Lead Content; NSF/ANSI Standard 61: Drinking Water System Components – Health Effects, Annex G; and California AB 1953, Section 116875.
Although initially proposed, the final rule stops short of requiring the marking and labeling of lead-free pipes, fittings, and fixtures, citing that the EPA “anticipates the final rule’s certification provisions, combined with the widespread practice of voluntary labeling by firms that obtain third-party certification, will likely result in the marketing of many potable use plumbing products in a way that communicates the lead-free status of the products to the purchaser without the burden of regulatory requirements to do so. “The EPA does, however, continue to recommend the marking and labeling of lead-free products and packages to indicate compliance with the SDWA. The rule does require a label for solder that is not lead free, which must state, “… illegal to use the solder or flux in the installation or repair of any plumbing providing water for human consumption.”
As of Sept. 1, 2020, compliance with the 2011 RLDWA has changed. Companies that keep compliance records and demonstrate that their products comply with the 0.25% weighted average lead content may need to take further action – verifying lead-free compliance with ANSI accredited third-party certification is now required. Contact ASSE International, or IAPMO R&T, to have your products certified to NSF/ANSI Standard 372 or California AB 1953, Section 116875.
- The flow rate cannot decrease by more than 50% of the day-one flow rate throughout the duration of the testing. Flow rate reduction is a tool to determine membrane fouling.
- TDS (total dissolved solids) reduction throughout the duration of testing must be at least 75%. TDS reduction is another tool used to evaluate the membrane’s performance.
- The average recovery rating must be a minimum of 40%. One-tenth of the sample readings can be less than 40%, but the final recovery measurement must meet or exceed 40%.
Several working group members plan to share the standard with local jurisdictions around the country and globally. ASSE commends the work that the RO industry has done to design new highly efficient membranes and new residential RO systems that can operate significantly more efficient. Billions of gallons of drinking water can be saved in the U.S. if consumers switch to ASSE 1086 certified efficient ROs. Assume 10 million residential ROs are in use in the U.S. with an average efficiency of 15%. For each RO to produce 1,000 gallons of drinking water each year, they will each use approximately 6,666 gallons of water. If consumers switch to ROs certified to ASSE 1086 we could save 4,166 gallons of water each year per RO – assuming 10 million residential ROs are in use today in the U.S., over 41 billion gallons of total water could be saved each year. To help prevent water shortages, we encourage ASSE Members to promote the new ASSE 1086 standard. Remember ASSE’s motto, “Prevention Rater Then Cure.”
Article by Tom Palkon first appeared in ASSE’s Working Pressure magazine