Congress considers bill to get lead out of lead-free faucets
Every other month or so for the last eight years, my small local water district in Colorado has sent me--and everyone else in the district--a multi-page flier explaining that some of the water tested in my district contains elevated levels of lead.
The letter explains that homes built before 1986 are more likely to have lead pipes, fixtures and solder and that the water district is bound by the EPA to send us these letters -- however, I wonder how much it costs to print and mail all of these fliers versus the cost of finding the problem sources and fixing them. After discussing potential causes and possible health effects, the fliers conclude with a suggestion that you test your water, but it also hints that if you have a home built after 1986, you're probably okay.
But according to a piece by former California State Assemblywoman Wilma Chan at AlterNet, you may not be as okay as you think.
"In 1986, a federal law was enacted to reduce lead in our drinking water plumbing. However, faucets sold today can still contain up to a quarter pound of lead and still be labeled as “lead-free” under the 1986 federal law."
According to the EPA, even legally “lead-free” plumbing may contain up to 8 percent lead and faucets may contain up to 4 percent lead. The most common problem is with brass or chrome-plated brass faucets and fixtures which can leach significant amounts of lead into the water, especially hot water.
Chan notes that the typical household faucet weighs about six and a half pounds. That means a typical household faucet can contain up to a quarter pound of lead and still be labeled “lead free” under the federal safe drinking water law.
Lead is particularly toxic to children and can lead to irreversible brain injury and developmental and behavior problems. The EPA estimates that fifteen to twenty percent of children's lead exposure comes from drinking water, costing the U.S. as much as $319 billion annually in lost productivity.
In adults, elevated levels of lead in drinking water can increase blood pressure and prolonged exposure could also lead to kidney problems.
The concern about lead content in faucets should be particularly striking consider that over the past twenty years, plumbing fixture manufacturing has moved out of the U.S. where, as recent product recalls for lead in toys, melamine in pet food, and toxic drywall--all manufactured in China--show that government oversight is nowhere nearly as stringent as it is in the U.S.
Elevated lead content in faucets first caught the eye of the California legislature in 2006 and is now raising the hackles of the U.S. Congress who see that current standards may not be stringent enough, especially considering the recent track record of some foreign manufacturers.
U.S. Representative Anna Eshoo (D-California) has introduced a federal bill, H.R. 5289, to truly eliminate lead from our drinking water plumbing. Modeled after a law first passed in California in 2006--and similar standards which have since been adopted in Vermont and Maryland--H.R. 5289 would tighten lead content standards to help ensure "zero leaching of lead" from faucets.
Just before Congress broke for summer recess, H.R. 5289 was passed by the House as part of a larger bill dealing with drinking water protections. The bill still needs to be passed by the Senate and signed by President Obama before it becomes law.