As new legislation toughens acceptable drinking water-related lead levels, compliance has become a hot topic.

Legislation in California has drastically lowered the accetable amount of lead in drinking water contact pipes, fittings, faucets and other devices intended to convey or dispense drinking water. Photo courtesy Elkay/USA


Assembly Bill (AB) 1953 was signed into California state law Sept. 30, 2006, lowering, by 97 percent, the here-to-fore accepted amount of lead in drinking water contact pipes, fittings, faucets and other devices intended to convey or dispense drinking water.

Vermont has enacted a similar law, while Maryland and Washington have proposed similar legislation. Some say Congress may enact this change to the federal Safe Drinking Water Act as well.

Since 1986, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Safe Drinking Water Act universally defined “lead free” to mean 8 percent lead content for pipe and pipe fittings and 4 percent for plumbing fittings and fixtures.

AB 1963 revises Section 116875 of the California Health and Safety Code to require “lead free” as no more than 0.25 percent lead content by weight when used with respect to a weighted average of the wetted surface areas of pipes and pipe fittings, plumbing fittings and fixtures.

This is important to recognize because of the surface area weighted average calculation specified in the law. When all the wetted parts, as individual components, of a complete drinking water device or system are each separately compliant with the 0.25 percent lead content requirement, then the complete product or system also meets AB 1953 requirements. An assembled system cannot be in violation if each component is individually compliant.



Numerous low-lead testing and certification options are available. A California senate bill requires all plumbing products coming into contact with potable water be certified by an ANSI-accredited third-party certification body. Photo courtesy Elkay USA

Low-Lead Testing

This law and code took effect Jan. 1, 2010. Two corresponding pieces of legislation (California Senate bills 1395 and 1334) describe the state’s new low-lead procedures. SB 1395 grants authority to the California Department of Toxic Substance Control to select random product samples for testing to determine compliance to AB 1953. The California DTSC does not have power, however, to enforce compliance.

The California DTSC will randomly select up to 75 drinking water faucets and other drinking water plumbing fittings and fixtures annually from locations readily accessible to the public at either retail or wholesale sources within the state for testing and evaluation to determine compliance with the lead content standards set forth in Health and Safety Code Section 116875 (Health and Safety Code, Section 25214.4.3).

In August 2009, the California DTSC published protocols to be used for the “testing and evaluation of lead content in plumbing products, materials and components.”

This procedure will assess the compliance of individual product samples and all devices covered by the law.

Results from the random sampling and subsequent analytical testing will then be posted on the California DTSC’s Web site www.dtsc.ca.gov with no further enforcement. SB 1334 also requires all plumbing products coming into contact with potable water be certified by an independent American National Standards Institute (ANSI)-accredited third-party certification body that must include material testing in accordance with the protocols used by the California DTSC.



Pre-Existing Conditions

However, in part because certification is practical only for those products mass-produced in relatively large volumes of identical units, the California Department of Public Health has clarified: “AB 1953 did not change the applicability of low-lead requirements for pipes, plumbing or other components. Products that had to meet the previous lead limits are subject to the new requirements and products that were not subject to those requirements are not subject to them now.” This means voluntary product certifications prior to AB 1953 remain as such post-AB 1953.

For example, water problems are frequently solved with unique and customized water treatment equipment designs. For whole-house reverse osmosis systems, commercial water systems and unique-problem water situations, the treatment equipment installed in any one location may not be the same as that installed in another installation. The only product permitted is the one at the installation site. The testing and certification for one will not transfer to any other.

Products registered under California’s “Water Treatment Device Certification Law” will not require additional third-party certification to the low-lead standard, but all products will have to comply with the revisions to the California Health and Safety Code using one of the following methods:

  • Self-certify or substantiate products are compliant;

  • Third-party laboratory testing demonstrating compliance; or

  • Product certification using an ANSI-accredited certification body to verify compliance.

    However, all drinking water systems and components must have safe material and must comply with the 0.25 percent lead content based on the weighted surface area specification in the new California lead-content-in-plumbing law. This can reasonably be accomplished by constructing assembled systems with all certified compliant components where certification fees (sans testing) for the system are not feasible for low-production volume products and where such systems have not been required to be certified in the past.

    Plumbing codes in California waterworks standards regulations require materials and products used in the treatment or distribution of water for public water systems be certified to NSF/ANSI 61 (to NSF/ANSI 60 if a chemical additive). This can be accomplished for AB 1953 by showing ANSI-accredited certifications for all wetted part components.



  • X-ray fluorescence testing at the WQA laboratory. Photo courtesy Water Quality Association

    Certification Options

    Certification of the complete system is always an acceptable option for manufacturers to substantiate and demonstrate required compliance to the California low-lead regulation and other materials safety laws. Drinking water treatment units (DWTUs) and other drinking water systems can achieve compliance with California AB 1953 (and to related SBs 1334 and 1395) low-lead requirements via either:

  • ANSI-accredited certification of the DWTU system; or

  • ANSI-accredited certification for each of the wetted components in the system.

    When manufacturers obtain third-party certification for compliance, they will want to research the ANSI-accredited certification bodies to find the one that best addresses their timeline, budget and customer service needs.

    The following is a list of accepted certification agencies accredited by ANSI to perform testing and certifications to the NSF/ANSI standards for DWTUs, drinking water system components, drinking water treatment additives and to California AB 1953, as well as other states’ low-lead requirements:

  • Water Quality Association;

  • NSF International;

  • Underwriters Laboratories;

  • Canadian Standards Association; and

  • International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials.

    My association, the WQA, has developed a certification program for companies facing low-lead laws and compliance to California regulations. Vermont has passed similar rules, which are also covered by the new WQA certification program. Under the process:

  • WQA will perform a desktop review of lead content.

  • WQA’s laboratory will perform XRF (X-ray fluorescence) scanning on materials containing lead in their formulation.

  • Materials disclosed to not contain lead in their formation may also be scanned with XRF to confirm the exact lead content or paucity of lead content.

  • Digestion will be performed if the results from the XRF scan are higher than the disclosed lead content percentage.

    The WQA Gold Seal staff may be contacted for explanations of the documentation needed to obtain certification. WQA has been issuing the Gold Seal Mark to products since 1959.

    If you are interested in exploring certification through WQA’s ANSI and SCC-accredited certification agency, contact Melissa Tonsor at 630/505-0160 or at mtonsor@wqa.org.