With all of the media coverage of lead leaching into potable water systems in Flint Michigan, Newark NJ, Allentown PA and many other cities, the awareness of the Safe Drinking Water Act and precautions that should have been taken are coming to light. The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) is the main federal law that ensures the quality of drinking water in America. These rules include establishing and enforcing standards that public drinking water systems must adhere to. The drinking water regulations promulgated by 48 of the 50 states include a requirement that chemicals used in drinking water treatment must be certified to NSF/ANSI Standard 61. This provides municipalities and consumers the assurance that the chemicals in their drinking water comply with nationally recognized health effects standards.
The Safe Drinking Water Act has prohibited the use of certain items that are not lead-free and has made it unlawful for anyone to introduce the potable water systems to products which are not lead-free. In 2011, changes to the act were enacted to lower the maximum lead content the materials used in plumbing products such as: pipes, pipe fittings, plumbing fittings and fixtures, from 8.0% to a weighted average of 0.25%. The Act also established a mandated method for the calculation of lead content.
Since the establishment of the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) in 1974, the safety of the U.S. drinking water supply has been an ongoing priority for health officials. Lead is not normally found in source water, but can enter drinking water systems through the corrosion of the pipes and plumbing fixtures. One of the major legislations for curtailing lead leaching is the passage of the federal Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act, signed into law by President Barack Obama in January 2011. The new law redefines “lead-free” under the SDWA to restrict the levels of lead in drinking water system components.
According to the EPA, children six years old and younger are at greatest risk when exposed to lead. Lead exposure can adversely affect brain development, leading to learning disabilities and behavioral problems. Some of the effects of lead in children include: lower IQ, nerve damage, encephalopathy, which is a disease in which the functioning of the brain is affected and even death. Lead exposure to adults can cause infertility, anemia and hypertension.
Although lead has been used in a wide range of household products, including plumbing materials and paint, it is a potent, unhealthy metal that accumulates in both soft tissue and bones. In plumbing, most lead leaching occurs because of the solder or flux used to join copper pipes together.
NSF 61 was developed to provide a standard for the approval of products to comply with the act and the reduction of lead leaching in our water supply. NSF 61 has been modified over the years and now consultants, contractors and manufacturers have begun the certification. The new method for assuring potable water products adhere to the weighted average of 0.25%, a mandate referred to as NSF 372 has emerged as the model for how to properly measure lead leaching. The plumbing components which need to meet these regulations include: coatings, pipes, valves, gaskets, headers and fittings.
Distributors and manufacturers of plumbing supplies will be affected directly by the Safe Drinking Water Act. To achieve Certification, a product must meet the leachate requirements of NSF 61 for all contaminants, which include metals and non-metals alike, as well as the weighted average lead content requirements of NSF 372 of 0.25%. Plating, coatings or acid wash treatments do not conform to the Act to make a device comply with the low lead regulations. Only NSF certified products will comply with the act.
Domestic water booster pumps are among the plumbing devices being scrutinized. Because they are prefabricated, the entire system requires certification rather than the individual parts. The system as a whole must pass the NSF 61 to qualify.
Exemptions to the SDWA includes pipes, pipe fittings, plumbing fittings, or fixtures, including backflow preventers, in services with non-potable water such as manufacturing, industrial processing, irrigation, outdoor watering, where the water will not be used for human consumption. The second exemption is for 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. Fire hydrants were exempted as part of the Community Fire Safety Act of 2013.
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