California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law legislation that will reduce the amount of lead found in faucets, fittings, piping and other common plumbing parts installed and repaired throughout the state to just 0.25% - a huge reduction from the old limit of 8%. Plumbing manufacturers have until 2010 to comply with the new restriction.

“Protecting public health is a top priority,” Schwarzenegger said in a news release. “I signed this bill to reduce the amount of lead exposure in California's drinking water. We need to make sure that the water we consume is safe for everyone, especially our children.”

There are no faucets on the market that meet this new standard, according to Barbara Higgens, executive director of the Plumbing Manufacturers Institute. “There are no simple drop-in replacement alloys appropriate for the critical mechanical demands of a faucet,” she said.

At PMI's annual Fall Meeting held in Washington, DC, Oct. 8-11, SUPPLY HOUSE TIMES asked some faucet manufacturers about their planned response to the new law.

A few said they were turning the matter over to their engineers. “We have to come up with a way that is acceptable to comply,” one manufacturer said. “It is not an option to withdraw our products from California. That state represents about 15% to 20% of the faucet market.”

Some manufacturers pointed to plastic or stainless steel as possible alternative materials, although both have drawbacks; others said they intended to take a wait-and-see approach and hoped to see a legal challenge made to the legislation.

At the Fall Meeting, PMI discussed possible responses to the passage of AB 1953, such as introducing new legislation, given that it does not take effect until 2010 and a big turnover is anticipated in the California legislature due to term limits; making an impact with building codes that will interpret the law; finding a champion to carry corrective legislation; and creating a White Paper to explain why lower lead alloys won't work.

In comments made before the meeting, Higgens had pointed out that the law lacks an enforcement mechanism and is unclear on exactly when and where a plumbing component would be targeted by the law. There had been language in the bill that defined that circumstance as “when entering into commerce in California for use in California,” she said, but that language was struck out of the final bill that landed on the governor's desk.

“In this case, a master distributor based in California, stocking a product for sale in another state that contains more lead than the new limit, would be in violation of the law,” Higgens explained.

“PMI is disappointed in the passage of AB 1953,” Higgens summed up. “While the measure's intent is to make plumbing products safer, it mandates an arbitrary, redundant and flawed formula to evaluate products that already undergo proven, rigorous testing under a federally-approved certification system.”