First, the good news: There is a faucet that complies with California’s new legal lockdown on the amount of lead contained in faucets sold for sale in the state.

Now, the bad news: The faucet, stainless steel inside and out, wholesales in Europe for $670. The worse news: The pricey product is made-to-order and was never meant to be mass-produced. The worst news: American plumbing manufacturers say they won’t have anything that comes close to meeting the law when it goes into effect in 2010.

The Plumbing Manufacturers Institute, along with other opponents of the lead limits, such as the California Association of Local Building Officials and the California Building Industry Association, warned legislators of just such a dilemma throughout last year’s legislative session.

“This was an emotional as well as a political issue,” said Barbara C. Higgens, executive director of PMI. “The other side still needs to know we weren’t lying when we said there were no viable faucets currently on the market nor would there be a viable alloy by 2010 that would comply with the new law.”

PMI discovered the unlikely European alternative through a survey sent to more than 40 attendees of a joint roundtable meeting held with the Copper Development Association last December. The roundtable included presentations by executives of the American Foundry Society and the Non-Ferrous Founders’ Society.

Bringing together the plumbing and foundry industries enabled everyone to see that there was no time to develop a new alloy and that alloy alternatives that exist today can’t work given the mechanical demands of a faucet, Higgens said.

Bismuth, for example, was one such alloy that proponents of the legislation presented as a viable alternative to leaded brass used for faucets. However, the American Foundry Society pointed out that there may not be enough bismuth mined around the world to replace the amount of brass used for the U.S. faucet market and it is not economical to mine as a primary product. The society also said that most manufacturers using bismuth were disappointed to find that cracks developed in the product over just a one-to-five-year period.

The Schwarzenegger Administration is discovering that implementing AB 1953 will be more difficult and a lot more expensive than originally believed, according to the CBIA’s Governmental Affairs Department.

PMI noted that how the law will be enforced remains unclear.

“One of our members demonstrated that you’d have to basically destroy the faucet first in order to figure out how much lead its different parts may or may not be leaching,” Higgens said.

Also, the bill contains no provisions for existing inventory, Higgens added. Manufacturers would have to start selling an alternative by 2009. Higgens hopes for an extension of time after 2010 at a minimum. “The governor does have some personal incentive in rectifying this law since right now it will go into effect during his current term.”

by Steve Smith