By Jerry Priest, VP & General Manager, Red-White Valve Corp.

In September 2006, California was the first state to pass a lead-free plumbing law. In 2008, the State of Vermont passed a similar no-lead law intended to specifically control the amount of lead in plumbing fixtures and other devices that deliver potable water for drinking or cooking. Several other states are currently considering similar legislation.

The California Health and Safety Code #116875, better known as Assembly Bill 1953 (AB1953) defines “lead free” to mean the maximum allowable lead content as:
  • 0.2% lead in solder and flux

  • 0.25% lead in wetted surfaces of pipe, fittings and fixtures as determined by weighted average

In meeting AB1953, manufacturers must develop products made of material containing less than .25% of lead, without a sealant or coating, and obtain independent third party certification. If manufacturers choose to continue to make higher lead content products and also make products that meet California and Vermont requirements, they will need to maintain two SKUs for the same product. Taking the lead out impacts the manufacturer - the cost of raw goods increases and machinery has to run at slower speeds, thus creating a lower yield rate. There is also some impact on scrap value because low-lead and leaded alloys cannot be mixed during the scrap process.

What is in and what is out?

There has been and continues to be significant confusion over the specific requirements of AB1953. Here is an overview of the requirements:

  • Devices intended to deliver potable water for human consumption either through drinking or cooking must be certified by an independent ANSI-approved laboratory.  Devices include faucets, fittings, valves, pumps, pressure regulators, meters, drinking fountains and even hard-plumbed devices such as commercial coffee makers and soft drink dispensers.  

  • There is a common assumption that the law applies to only 2” and smaller devices. The only mention of device size in AB1953 is the mention that 2” and larger gate valves are excluded. Service saddles, backflow devices and other products specifically used in irrigation and fire protection are excluded. Does this mean you are in violation of AB1953 if you sell a 3” ball valve into a drinking water application? YES.   

  • No person shall use any pipe, plumbing fixture, solder or flux that is not lead free during the installation or repair in a facility that is providing water for human consumption. There is no mention of requiring homeowners to install lead-free devices prior to or during the sale of property in California.  

  • Any product or device intended to be used in a potable water application in California must meet the requirements of AB1953. This means that products must have independent third party certification. Providing a product that meets the .25% of lead requirement is not enough. The product must be certified by an ANSI-approved laboratory and be so listed with said laboratory.  

  • Products sold by wholesalers intended for irrigation-only applications should either be so identified or be specific enough to non- drinking water applications that it would be obvious to a state inspector. This means if a wholesaler has copper bearing valves in their inventory intended to be sold into non-drinking water applications, they should be clearly marked in their inventory as not intended for potable water. The identification of products sold that may have crossover for irrigation and drinking water should be clearly marked within the wholesalers inventory. This can be accomplished by providing a sign at the point of inventory stating “do not sell for drinking water applications.” This is not a guarantee of indemnification, but will provide a safe harbor for selling the inventory.  

  • It is not clear how the state will manage inspections of inventory or what is the punishment for carrying and selling non- AB1953 compliant products. It is clear that the inspection process will take place at the wholesaler’s inventory location. It is also clear that some local building inspectors, such as those from the city of Los Angeles, will be examining materials being installed to check for certification. At this time, the majority of California wholesalers have changed out their non-compliant products to the AB1953 certified products.   

  • Following is a brief listing of devices that are subject to the requirements of AB1953:
    a.         Water distribution valves of any size excluding 2” and larger gate valves
    b.          Fixtures for sinks other than service sinks
    c.          Fittings, tees and splitters
    d.          Solenoid valves for household use other than irrigation
    e.          Water meters
    f.          Submersible pumps used in the conveyance of potable water
    g.          Drinking water fountains
    h.          Fixtures delivering potable water to cooking applications, ice making and coffee making
    i.           Water heater fixtures including isolation valves unless the water heater is intended for industrial use
    j.           Mixing and anti-scald valves

  • Future directions

    There has been speculation that the State of California will rescind or modify the requirements of AB1953. Most people that are close to this issue do not see any way this will happen.  If anything, there maybe additional items inserted into the requirements of AB1953. 

    It is apparent that other states are working on low-lead legislation, although this process is expected to move slowly. With the NSF61-G specification now in publication, it allows states to follow the requirements of AB1953 and require that suppliers market products meeting NSF61-G.

    ASA Members Can Make a Difference

    In recent years, ASA’s Government & Public Affairs Committee has taken a proactive approach to addressing regulatory issues with agencies and, where appropriate, congressional committees or individual members of Congress. “The low-lead laws that our distributor members and manufacturer members who sell in California are having to deal with is a timely example of how state-by-state regulations have the potential to wreak havoc on our industry,” shares Dennis Goode, chairman of the Government & Public Affairs Committee. “ASA is uniquely positioned to appeal to the decision-makers in Washington, D.C., and encourage national standards on issues like this. But we can’t do it in a vacuum. We need our members to look at something like this and instead of saying ‘I’m not in California so I don’t need to worry about it, think ‘what can I do today to make sure I don’t have to worry about it tomorrow?’ We encourage our members to be proactive and national in their thinking about regulatory laws and support ASA’s efforts in this area of advocacy.” For more information on ASA’s advocacy efforts, please