Smart Solutions

Are You Ready for the January 4, 2014, Lead-Free Compliance Deadline?

Ferguson Offers Guidelines for a Smooth Transition to Lead-Free Products

The Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act (U.S. Public Law 111- 380) goes into effect nationwide on January 4, 2014. It reduces the allowable lead content of all products that come in contact with drinking water or water for human consumption. Beginning in January, no one can install or sell products that are not deemed lead free for water systems designated for human consumption, including cooking.

If you ignore the new law, you could be facing significant financial issues. Most notably, after January 4, 2014, there is no outlet for products that do not meet the lead law criteria. How the law will be applied to ongoing jobs—those that began before the new requirements went into effect—remains an open question. Some states have already enacted new requirements. Differences exist in the interpretation of which products fall within the scope of the law. States and localities must abide by the federal law but can be more stringent in their own regulations.

Because this legislation creates challenges and opportunities for both contractors and distributors, Ferguson offers these tips to help contractors check their readiness and prepare to comply with the new legislation.

1. Educate yourself and your associates as soon as possible. Talk to your legal counsel. “Lead free” is defined as having not more than a weighted average of .25% lead when used with respect to the wetted surfaces of pipes, pipe fittings, plumbing fittings, and fixtures. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will oversee the new law. The EPA has not issued any official guidelines to date and is not likely to do so until after the law goes into effect. A draft list of frequently-asked questions (FAQs) is available; it is expected that the FAQs will be finalized and distributed within a few months. See the bottom of this article for education resources.

2. Inspect your existing stock immediately. Look in fabrication shops, jobsite trailers, storerooms, etc., for products that are not lead free and that are used exclusively in potable water. Items to inspect include but are not limited to lavatory faucets, kitchen faucets, brass supplies and stops, brass fittings, cast copper fittings, potable-only backflow products, and low-pressure brass/bronze valves. Anything not installed prior to January 4, 2014, that is used only in potable water cannot be returned to most manufacturers and will essentially be scrap. Some products that contain lead today can be used in other, nonpotable applications (e.g., brass/bronze valves) and will continue to be available in 2014. Work with your distributors and manufacturers now, before it is too late.

3. Talk to local plumbing inspectors about jobs in progress. Enforcement of the law will most likely be the responsibility of local plumbing inspectors. It is important to understand how they will treat jobs in progress. The law is clear about installation after the January 4, 2014, deadline, but what about the units, floors, and sections that are completed in 2013? Will completed portions of the project need to pass inspection prior to the end of the year, or does the whole project need to be lead free? So far, the EPA has been silent about inspection and is upholding the January 4, 2014, cutoff date for sales and installation.

4. Meet with your distributors. Discuss open projects, as there may be availability issues in late 2013 for both compliant and noncompliant products. Jointly decide on transition plans. Most lead-free products have a higher cost and sales price. Review open bids for future projects and consider whether rebidding is needed. Consider whether distributors have any material stocked for you for current projects. Working together minimizes risks for both parties.

5. Learn to identify the difference between lead-free and noncompliant products. There are no standards in place; marking and identification vary from product to product and manufacturer to manufacturer. Many valve manufacturers are changing the color of the handles and attaching tags to the valves. Warning labels are beginning to appear on noncompliant products. Most products that are certified have NSF 61 Annex G or NSF 372 certification on the packaging or the product itself. Talking with your distributors and significant manufacturer partners will help.

6. Understand the differences among lead-free products. Different manufacturers replaced the lead with different metal alloys. Lead-free products may have some subtle installation differences. Discuss the products with your distributors and manufacturers’ representatives. Consider obtaining samples of low-lead solder, flux, and valve components to see how they react differently from other products. Some products now require more heat and therefore more installation time. Estimators and field personnel will need education about the new product requirements.

7. Communicate, communicate, and communicate! This law is tough for the entire industry and we are all trying to limit risks. Working together at every stage, from vendor to installer, we can help each other through this transition.

Education Resources

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