The 111th Congress has passed an amendment to the Safe Drinking Water Act which creates a federal limit of 0.25% for the maximum lead content of any plumbing component used for potable water intended for human consumption that is smaller than 2″ in diameter. I think that the intent of this bill is good, but it really doesn’t do more than make people feel good and cause a massive increase in the cost of delivered components, especially brass which is very difficult and costly to machine when the lead levels drop that low. Municipal distribution piping is a greater source of lead than the fixtures themselves, and should be addressed as a much higher priority. This bill will become effective in 2013, so expect an influx of “cheap” high-lead components from China and the Philippines over the next year or two.

So what’s the big deal about lead in water anyway? Lead (Pb) is a highly toxic heavy metal that has been used by humans for thousands of years because it is simple to extract and easy to work with… Lead was one of the first piping materials in the civilized world, and the Roman term for lead “plumbum” is the root of our modern word “Plumber“. We have used lead in gasoline, paint, cosmetics, and numerous other industrial applications. Lead is an unavoidable part of our lives to some degree or another.

Lead exposure is primarily through ingestion, Ingested lead can damage the nervous system and cause serious brain damage at very low consumption levels. Lead can also cause blood disorders when consumed in relatively high quantities. Lead accumulates in the tissues and bones of the body, so ingestion is cumulative and long-lasting. According to Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry, a small amount of lead (1%) will store itself in bones & the rest will be excreted through urine and feces within a few weeks of exposure. Children have a harder time excreting lead. Only about 32% of lead will be excreted by a child. We need to avoid lead consumption wherever reasonably possible. High kinetic ion exchange resins like Hydrolyte 525-2 and 525-3 are very effective at reducing lead, as well as other technologies like distillation, reverse osmosis and even certain extruded carbon block filters. Since a certain amount of lead exposure is inevitable, and our bodies can excrete it one could logically conclude that the solution to pollution is dilution…drink more good clean water!

Full text of the bill below:

S. 3874

One Hundred Eleventh Congress of the United States of America


Begun and held at the City of Washington on Tuesday, the fifth day of January, two thousand and ten

An Act

To amend the Safe Drinking Water Act to reduce lead in drinking water.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,


This Act may be cited as the ‘‘Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act’’.


(a) IN GENERAL.—Section 1417 of the Safe Drinking Water Act (42 U.S.C. 300g–6) is amended—

(1) by adding at the end of subsection (a) the following: ‘‘(4) EXEMPTIONS.—The prohibitions in paragraphs (1) and

(3) shall not apply to—

‘‘(A) pipes, pipe fittings, plumbing fittings, or fixtures, including backflow preventers, that are used exclusively for nonpotable services such as manufacturing, industrial processing, irrigation, outdoor watering, or any other uses where the water is not anticipated to be used for human consumption; or

‘‘(B) 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.’’; and

(2) by amending subsection (d) to read as follows: ‘‘(d) DEFINITION OF LEAD FREE.— ‘‘(1) IN GENERAL.—For the purposes of this section, the term ‘lead free’ means— ‘‘(A) not containing more than 0.2 percent lead when used with respect to solder and flux; and

‘‘(B) not more than a weighted average of 0.25 percent lead when used with respect to the wetted surfaces of pipes, pipe fittings, plumbing fittings, and fixtures. ‘‘(2) CALCULATION.—The weighted average lead content of

a pipe, pipe fitting, plumbing fitting, or fixture shall be cal­culated by using the following formula: For each wetted compo­nent, the percentage of lead in the component shall be multi­plied by the ratio of the wetted surface area of that component to the total wetted surface area of the entire product to arrive at the weighted percentage of lead of the component. The weighted percentage of lead of each wetted component shall be added together, and the sum of these weighted percentages shall constitute the weighted average lead content of the product. The lead content of the material used to produce

S. 3874—2

wetted components shall be used to determine compliance with paragraph (1)(B). For lead content of materials that are pro­vided as a range, the maximum content of the range shall be used.’’.

(b) EFFECTIVE DATE.—The provisions of subsections (a)(4) and

(d) of section 1417 of the Safe Drinking Water Act, as added by this section, apply beginning on the day that is 36 months after the date of the enactment of this Act.

Speaker of the House of Representatives.

Vice President of the United States and President of the Senate.