Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act:
The Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act is a federal law that amends the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) and sets new, lower standards for the amount of lead permissible in plumbing products that come into contact with potable (drinkable) water. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has primary responsibility for interpreting the SDWA with individual states using health or plumbing codes or other standards consistent with the SDWA and EPA regulations to enforce those standards.
The new law reduces the permissible levels of lead in the wetted surfaces of pipes, pipe fittings, plumbing fittings and fixtures to a weighted average of not more than 0.25%. In addition, the law retains the 0.20% lead limit for solders and flux first implemented in 1986 and stipulates a method for calculating the weighted average lead content. Products that meet this standard are referred to in the law as "Lead Free."
The Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act goes into effect on January 4, 2014. However, new lead content restrictions are already in effect in California and Vermont since January 1, 2010 and in Maryland since January 2012. They will go into effect in Louisiana starting January 1, 2013.
Regulatory efforts at the state and federal level to minimize the lead content in drinking water are currently focused on reducing the lead content in drinking water system components and all other products that come in contact with potable water.
The new standard does not apply to pipes, pipe fittings, plumbing fittings or fixtures that are used exclusively for nonpotable services such as manufacturing, industrial processing, irrigation, outdoor watering, or any other uses where water is not anticipated to be used for human consumption. The law also specifically excludes 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 law makes it illegal to sell or install pipes, fittings valves, and fixtures in applications providing water for human consumption which exceeds the 0.25% weighted average limit for wetted surfaces. That means whether you sell or install these products, you will need to supply products compliant with the new law.
January 4, 2014:
It will be illegal to sell or install products for use in potable water applications that are not Lead Free*. This will dramatically reduce the available market for products made with traditional materials. Manufacturers are quickly working to bring their products into compliance, and obtaining the product certifications necessary to comply with specific federal and state regulations.
The U.S. EPA is tasked with implementing this law, but primary responsibility for enforcing the law is left to the states. Most states pass responsibility to cities, towns, and municipal utilities, which use health and plumbing codes to drive enforcement.
Do Lead Free products need to be third-party certified?
California requires product certification by an independent third-party laboratory and certifying to NSF 61 standards is becoming common. As of today, Vermont, Maryland, Louisiana and the Federal Legislation do not require third-party certification.
How can I tell if a product is Lead Free*?
There is currently no industry standardization regarding the marking of Lead Free* products. Manufacturers may vary in the ways in which they mark their products. Check the product nameplate, hang tag, body casting, part number and/or product packaging for a Lead Free* designation. If in doubt, please consult the manufacturer for further clarification.
Lead in brass products:
In standard traditional brass and bronze, lead has been added to act as an alloying material, to prevent porosity, and enhance machinability.
There are a variety of new material formulations that have been developed that use silicon, bismuth, antimony, tin, nickel, or special heat treatments as alloying elements.
*Lead Free refers to the wetted surface of pipe, fittings and fixtures in potable water systems that have a weighted average lead content <=0.25% per the Safe Drinking Water Act (Sec. 1417) amended 1-4-2011 and other equivalent state regulations.