Use of Lead Free Pipes, Fittings, Fixtures, Solder, and Flux for Drinking Water

On September 1, 2020, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published the final rule “Use of Lead-Free Pipe, Fittings, Fixtures, Solder, and Flux for Drinking Water.” The final rule states: The EPA is making appropriate changes to existing regulations based on the Law to reduce lead in drinking water (RLDWA) and the Community Fire Safety Act passed by Congress.The final rule also requires manufacturers and/or importers to certify that their products meet the requirements through a uniform verification process within 3 years of the final rule's publication in the Federal Register. This new rule will reduce lead levels in drinking water and ensure that states, manufacturers, inspectors and consumers have a common understanding of “lead-free” plumbing.

Overview of the Safe Drinking Water Act's lead-free requirements

Section 1417 of the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) sets the definition of “lead-free” as a weighted average of 0.25% lead calculated across the wet surfaces of a pipe, pipe fitting, plumbing fixture, and fitting, and 0.2% lead for solder and flux. The law also provides a method for calculating the weighted average of the wet surfaces.

The law prohibits the “use of any pipe, pipe or plumbing fitting or fixture, solder, or flux manufactured after June 1986 in the installation or repair of (i) any public water system; or (ii) any plumbing fixture in any residential or nonresidential building that supplies water for human consumption that is not free of lead.”

In addition, it is prohibited to place on the market pipes, pipe or plumbing fittings, solder or flux that are not lead-free, unless they are used for manufacturing or industrial purposes. From 1 September 2023, manufacturers and importers who place on the market sanitary products subject to the “lead-free” regulation will be required to have a “lead-free” certification.

The SDWA includes several exemptions from the lead-free requirements, particularly for plumbing appliances used exclusively for nonpotable purposes, as well as a list of specific products: toilets, bidets, urinals, fill valves, flush valves, fire hydrants, tub fill fittings, shower valves, service saddles or main valves for water distribution with a diameter of 2 inches or more.

Legislative history

In 1986, Congress amended the Safe Drinking Water Act to prohibit the use of pipe, solder, or flux that was not “lead-free” in public water systems or in the piping of facilities that provide water for human consumption. At that time, “lead-free” was defined as solder and flux containing no more than 0.2% lead and pipe containing no more than 8%.

In 1996, Congress further amended the Safe Drinking Water Act to require plumbing fixtures and appliances (terminals) to meet voluntary lead leaching standards. The amendments also prohibited the introduction into commerce of any pipe, tubing, or plumbing fixture or appliance that is not lead-free.

In 2011, Congress passed the Lead in Drinking Water Reduction Act (RLDWA), which changed the definition of “lead-free.” It reduced the maximum lead content of wetted surfaces of plumbing products (such as pipes, pipe fittings, plumbing fixtures, and appliances) from 8% to a weighted average of 0.25%. It also established a statutory method for calculating lead content and removed the requirement that lead-free products meet voluntary standards established under SDWA 1417(e) for leaching lead from new plumbing fixtures and appliances.

The 2011 RLDWA also created exceptions in section 1417 of the SDWA to the prohibitions on the use or introduction into commerce of “pipes, pipe joints, plumbing fixtures, or devices, including backflow preventers, used exclusively for nonpotable purposes such as manufacturing, industrial processing, irrigation, outdoor watering, or other uses where the water is not expected to be used for human consumption” (SDWA 1417(a)(4)(A)). Also exempted are “toilets, bidets, urinals, fill valves, flush valves, tub fillers, shower valves, service saddles, or main valves for water distribution with a diameter of 2 inches or more” (SDWA 1417(a)(4)(B)).

The Community Fire Safety Act of 2013 further amended Section 1417 of the SDWA to include fire hydrants in the list of exempt sanitary facilities.

Past Public meeting hints, Presentations and summary of the law

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