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A high road to low lead

The state of lead policies for plumbing products in Canada.


April 12, 2013
By Kevin Wong

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For most Canadians, the lead issue is very old.

For most Canadians, the lead issue is very old. Back in the 1980s, the plumbing industry opted to limit lead contact to eight per cent in an attempt to drive down exposure to the chemical. Back then, it was a consolidated effort of the manufacturers, the policy makers and what would become the plumbing code on either side of the border.

Toxicologically, it is safe to say that no amount of lead is acceptable for human exposure.

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Nevertheless, lead from historical uses has pervaded our lives, from the soil we stand on, to the air we breathe to the water we drink. It is an understood historical relic. It is everywhere.

California 2006
Fast-forward to California, early 2006, and the State Bill AB 1953 that Senator Chan introduced and proposed to limit lead in plumbing to an average of 0.25 per cent of the wetted surface area.

With an enforceable date of Jan. 1, 2010, hardwired into the California legislation, there were a number of challenges that had to be overcome, namely:

  • The need for a referenced standard and test procedure
  • The decision as to which state department was going to monitor and enforce in California
  • How were manufacturers going to comply?

This was a challenge to the testing bodies, the manufacturers, and the regulators and policy makers in California, including their water utilities professionals, the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), the health department and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

This was truly a challenge where all the stakeholders had to pool their resources and knowledge to develop a solution to meet the legislative challenge.

Challenges of enforcement and compliance
The first task that was determined by the regulators was to codify something into a standard. Since NSF 61 was already the well-recognized and -referenced standard of choice for many of the nation’s water purveyors and regulators, it was the first choice so that there would be no need to add a new reference standard into regulation. In many places, NSF 61 was already written into regulations. All that was needed was to reference the latest version of the NSF 61 standard with the requisite requirements once it was developed and published. It was an administrative solution at best for the regulators and a desirable solution for manufacturers since many would already be compliant with ther standard and familiar with its stringent testing procedures.

The formulation of NSF 61 – Annex G
In September 2007, East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) proactively responded to these issues with a proposal (issues document) to the NSF Standard 60/61 Joint Committee that a new Annex be created for Standard 61 that establishes a standardized evaluation method for product certification purposes.

By the winter of 2007, the NSF 60/61 Joint Committee responded positively to the issue document whereby regulators from California were asking the NSF 61 technical committee to integrate California’s low-lead requirements into the standard.

The Joint Committee already had a Lead Task Group established to work on continued refinement of NSF 61 with respect to lead. This task group was expanded to include representatives from the California Department of Public Health, EBMUD and other interested parties.

A draft was set up as an addition to NSF 61. The opening sections of the draft revision add references to the general section (Section 3). Annex G then covered the specific aspects of calculating the weighted wetted surface area of a product. Concerns over what products are covered and excluded as sources of water for drinking and cooking are therefore the same as those listed in each of the product-related sections in the main body of Standard 61. For instance, in Section 9, kitchen and lavatory faucets are included, but tub/shower valves, toilet tanks fill valves and other items are excluded.

In November of 2008, NSF 61 Annex G came into being as a referenceable section of NSF 61. Then the task group worked with the various testing labs to develop a number of ways to determine and test to the Annex G requirements. Now manufacturers had a standard, a test protocol and the tools and interpretations to share with the supply chain, regulators and testing labs. In reality they were part of the process to develop all these so all these developments did not comes as a surprise.

The Canadian Institute of Plumbing and Heating (CIPH) took an active part in the development of the test protocol, benchmarking the procedures, lab testing them and interpreting the results to find where challenges in interpretation could take place. All this was done to ensure that the government, certification labs and industry were all working off the same methodology and ending up with the same interpretation of the data.

Once a testing protocol and standard was completed, the critical issues of having to deal with the Calfirnia legislation were managed. The industry was ready for California’s January 2010 deadline.

The NSF Lead Task Group now had to wrestle with some of the technical, legal and logistical impacts of what it had done to comply with California’s laws.

The two major issues were that the bulk of NSF 61 was a chemical extraction and technical standard based on chemistry, while the Annex G protocols were a calculation. This conflict affected manufacturers because they could meet one section of NSF 61 yet fail the Annex G criteria and
vice versa.

The solution was to take the Annex G requirements out of the NSF 61 standard and place them into their own separate standard, then have the Annex act as a pointer to that new standard. Through late 2009 and 2010, the task force worked on developing what would become the NSF 372.

The development of NSF 372
In November of 2010, the NSF Drinking Water Additives Joint Committee approved the release of NSF 372 Drinking Water System Components – Lead Content. This new standard allows product to be evaluated to only a low-lead criteria without having to be fully NSF 61 certified. NSF 61 – Annex G now refers users to the new standard.

Currently in Canada, certified plumbing products are already required to conform to NSF 61 for material safety. The new NSF 372 standard is a method that could be used to demonstrate compliance to a 0.25 per cent weighted average lead requirement.

Other American states
As the events in California unfolded, other U.S. states were considering passing similar low-lead laws. The Plumbing Manufacturers Interantional (PMI) and other associations, including CIPH, lobbied firmly for these other states to harmonize their technical requirements and allow for reasonable implementation dates to allow manufacturers and the supply chain to adjust to the new requirements and clear inventory in a responsible manner.

What the associations recognized at the time was the increasing trend of independent legislative actions from interested states to want to create legislation similar to California’s, but each with differing language and requirements. Allowing this trend to progress would create a disaster for the plumbing industry in America.

A national solution was required. PMI successfully advocated for lowering the national standard for lead in the Safe Drinking Water Act. The industry lobbied for changes to the U.S. Safe Drinking Water Act. Through late 2009 and 2010, the associations, led by PMI, lobbied for a change in the U.S. Safe Drinking Water Act.

On Dec. 17, 2010, U.S. Congress passed the Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act. The legislation was presented to President Obama for signature and approval on Dec. 28, 2010. CIPH received word from our friends at PMI that the president had signed the bill into law on Jan. 5, 2011.

The new law provided a 36-month implementation period from approval, after which manufacturers and importers will be required to comply with the new standard. It uniformly reduces the lead standard for pipes, pipe fittings and plumbing fittings from as much as eight per cent to 0.25 per cent across the nation, which is consistent with the current state laws in California, Vermont and Maryland. CIPH, along with the Plumbing Manufacturers International and allies, worked tirelessly over the last few years with jurisdictions such as California and other states to advocate changes to the U.S. lead standards, to develop technical standards, and to educate key decision makers on lead policy development.

The industry, on a national scale in the U.S., had a referenced NSF standard, a method of how to achieve it, a federal regulation to apply, and a timeline of 36 months.

The Jan. 4, 2014, deadline and Canada
As of early this year, manufacturers are abiding by the laws in the U.S. and managing their respective applicable products for low-lead requirements, in time for the deadline. The EPA has not yet indicated how it will be rolling out supporting regulation for the act. As we approach 2014, this will crystalize into a clearer approach and guidance by the government.

In the early stages of the developments in California, CIPH got involved in the NSF Lead task force and the standards development work. Lead was not a critical challenge in Canada at the time. The institute determined that early involvement was in the best interests of the members, and the Canadian industry.

In the Canadian context, the U.S.-styled federal regulatory approach and route was untenable. In 2009, the institute wrote Health Canada indicating that “blanket” regulations were not desirable or necessary. Health Canada agreed and went the route of adopting “low-lead” criteria via the model national plumbing and building codes system in Canada.

To achieve this strategy of adopting low-lead criteria into the model codes, the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) created a task force to work on adopting similar 0.25 per cent low-lead specifications and to propose requirements and definitions for inclusion into ASME A112.18.1/CSA B125.1 and B125.3 Standards for Plumbing Fittings. Manufacturer compliance to lead content requirements can be demonstrated through certification to the referenced standards.

CIPH fully supports integrating low-lead requirements into the appropriate technical standards as this approach places the adopted lead content criteria into a system that is already well understood by the manufacturers and regulators responsible for manufacture, importation and enforcement of products under these standards.

This approach was apdoted by the pump manufacturers in the 1990s, when the industry’s manufacturers went towards a low-lead standard to eliminate the metal from their products. This is reflected in their standards. At the same time, that industry worked to remove other harmful concerns including mercury.

The challenging question that remains is that the work to be done will eventually include other well supplies and components, and other products. Will this be done via regulatory pressure or will the industry take the leadership role?

The provinces and territories currently follow the Model National Plumbing or Building Codes, which reference the technical standards for plumbing products. CIPH believes that all provinces should be directed to adopt any updated codes and fully utilize their present authority to eliminate the sale and installation of non-compliant product from the Canadian marketplace. Comprehensive application of existing enforcement models will remove the need for any new Canadian federal regulation pertaining to lead content in plumbing products.

CIPH encourages the appropriate federal departments, including Industry Canada and Health Canada, to work together and to work with the provinces and territories to ensure that timing of such code adoption in Canada will coincide with implementation of the similar American legislation.

What’s left to do?
Currently, what is left to accomplish:

  • Integrating the standard into other CSA standards for applicable product.
  • Referencing the latest versions of the CSA standards into the NPC.
  • Adopting of the model NPC by the provinces via their building regulations.

CIPH continue to urge Canadian regulators to consider a strategy that will align Canadian lead content guidelines and timelines with the Jan. 5, 2014, effective date stated in the American legislation. Uniform requirements and effective dates in both countries will help to protect the health and safety of the public by preventing any potential for dumping of non-compliant product.

It will also provide Canadian manufacturers a clear strategy for developing products that will be compliant for both domestic and export markets.

Implications for the water well industry
As this becomes adopted into the supply chain, specifiers, engineers and other professionals will have to start looking at how they specify and design plumbing sytems in the building. Only the potable water systems anticipated or intended for human consumption will be affected. The rest will follow the established requirements.

In the near future, provincial regulators will be looking beyond the traditional plumbing infrastructure to manage the lead issue. As this happens, we anticipate that well regulations and infrastructure policy may change. When that day comes, the industry will be ready.


Kevin Wong is the executive director of the Canadian Water Quality Association and the manager of the Canadian Association of Pump Manufacturers. For more information, please contact Kevin at k.wong@cwqa.com.