Issue: 2/04

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has pledged to resolve the issue of whether or not builders will be allowed to use plastic piping to deliver water in new residential construction in the state. The governor seems to be embracing the idea that plastic construction piping should be permitted as a less expensive alternative to copper. Union plumbers, however, disagree, saying plastic piping could threaten public health and safety.

California has not approved cross-linked polyethylene pipe, or PEX, for general use in the construction of homes and other buildings, although several counties and cities there do allow it.

The main advocate for plastic piping is a trade group representing its manufacturers, local building code enforcement officials and homebuilders represented by the California Building Industry Association. The group argues that plumbers oppose PEX because it threatens their jobs, taking less time and skill to install than copper.

The union plumbers of the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices, along with consumer and environmental groups, contend that plastic piping is generally less durable than copper, and toxins can permeate it and get into drinking water.

Although in Dec. 2002, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge concluded that the environmental quality act does not apply to products such as PEX, and directed the state to approve its use in construction, Former Gov. Gray Davis's administration appealed the decision. Reportedly, Schwarzenegger's attorneys are trying to determine whether they can dismiss the appeal.