Faucet Basics: A Homeowner's Guide
Keeping Faucets Safe


Fau­cets are regulated products in the North America. Not just anything with a shiny chrome finish that delivers water can be sold as a faucet. It has to first be tested and certified to meet certain reliability and safety standards and must comply with a number of laws and regulations.

Because Canada and the U.S. are federations with decentralized governments, The imposition and enforcement of faucet regulations is spread across multiple levels of government. The U.S. in particular has laws at the local, state and federal level that faucet companies have to meet. In fact, the matrix of laws is complicated enough that most major faucet companies have compliance officers whose job is to ensure that their faucets comply in every respect the the many laws that regulate them.

Here are the basic laws, standards and regulations that every faucet must meet:

Summary of Laws and Standards
Affecting Sink Faucets
Objective Law or Standard Contained in Consequences of violation
Mechanical safety and reliability of faucets; ease of repair Joint U.S./Canadian standard ASME A112.18.1/CSA B125.1: Plumbing Supply Fittings State/Provincial plumbing codes Faucet may not be installed in a drinking water system
Reduce lead content in faucets Joint U.S./Canadian standard ANSI/NSF 372: Drinking Water System Components - Lead Content Safe Drinking Water Act (U.S.),

State/Provincial plumbing codes
Faucet may not be imported, held for sale, advertised, or sold (U.S.). May not be installed in a drinking water system (U.S./Canada)
Reduce toxic substances in drinking water Joint U.S./Canadian standard ANSI/NSF 61: Drinking Water System Components - Health Effects State/Provincial plumbing codes Faucet may not be installed in a drinking water system
Reduce water consumption Energy Policy and Conservation Act limits maximum water flow from a residential sink faucet to 2.2 gallons per minute U.S. Department of Energy Faucet may not be imported, held for sale, advertised, or sold. (Canadian sales are not affected)
State and Provincial Laws, Standards and Regulations
Objective Law or Standard Enforced by Consequences of violation
Reduce water consumption California (Executive Order B-29-15) limits water flow from lavatory faucets to 1.2 gallons per minute, from kitchen faucets to 1.8 gallons per minute. California Department of Energy Faucet may not be imported into, sold in or installed in the state.
Reduce lead content in faucets California (AB1953), Louisiana (Act 471), Maryland (HB372), Vermont(Act 193) Various state agencies Faucet may not be imported into, sold in or installed in the state.
Reduce Water Consumption Colorado (SB14-103) Colorado Water Conservation Board Only those bathroom sink faucets that are Watersense® labeled (see below) may be installed in Colorado.
Mechanical safety and reliability Georgia (SB370) Environmental Protection Division Only those faucets that have been certified by an independent laboratory to comply with ASME A112.18.1/CSA 125.1 are legal in Georgia. Non-compliant faucets may not be sold or installed. Violation is a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment for a term not to exceed one year or a fine of not more than $1,000.00, or both.
Mechanical safety and reliability Massachusetts Statutes Board of Registration of Plumbers and Gas Fitters Only those faucets approved by the Board of Registration of Plumbers and Gas Fitters for residential use may be installed in the state
Mechanical safety and reliability, Reduce lead content of faucets Quebec Building Code Régie du bâtiment du Québec Prohibits a faucet that does not comply with ASME A112.18.1/CSA B125.1 or ANSI/NSF lead free standards from being installed in Quebec Province.
Optional Standards
Objective Law or Standard Contained in Consequences of violation
Reduce Water Consumption EPA Watersense® Program EPA Allows faucets that have been tested and found to be 20% more efficient than standard faucets to be labeled as compliant with Watersense standards. Applies to lavatory faucets only. Usually voluntary, unless required by State or Provincial law (see Colorado, above). There is no penalty of any kind for failing to comply with Watersense.
Make faucets accessible to all persons ANSI/ICC A117.1 None Testing and certification is not required for residential faucets, but some companies voluntarily certify their faucets.


Plumbing Codes


State and Provincial plumbing codes are the public's first line of defence against an unreliable or dangerous faucet. In all Canadian provinces and American states, there is a province- or state-wide

De-Mystifying Certification Marks

A faucet that is tested and certified will not just be listed on a "Certificate of Listing", it must also bear the mark of the certifying organization. Unfortunately, there are a number of such organizations, and the certification marks nor only vary but are usually cryptic references to a bunch of logos, letters and numbers that make sense only to industry insiders.

To de-mystify the marks and their meanings, here is a list of the most common certifying organizations and an explanation of what their marks mean.

Marks indicating certification are required to be permanently etched or stamped on some part of the faucet itself, "located in such a way that they are visible after installation".

International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO-RT)

The UPC Shield is applied to faucets that are certified by IAPMO-RT as meeting the standard specified. The "c" under the shield indicates that the faucet complies with both the U.S. and Canadian standards for faucets. IAPMO-RT is the premier testing and evaluation service in the U.S. and this is the most common mark found on faucets in North America.

International Codes Council (ICC-ES)

The ICC-ES mark is applied to faucets that are certified by ICC-ES as meeting the standard specified. The optional "c" indicates that the faucet complies with both the U.S. and Canadian standards for faucets..

CSA Group

CSA Group (formerly the Canadian Standards Association) is premier testing and evaluation service in Canada. A CSA mark signifies that a faucet is listed on a certificate of listing for the standard specified. The optional "US" or "NRTL" means that the faucet is meets the applicable U.S. standards. A CSA mark with the both indicators, "C" and "US", or "NRTL/C" means that the product meets both U.S. and Canadian standards.

Intertek Testing Services NA, Inc.

Intertek is an international testing service operating in 100 countries that tests to North American faucet standards, but also to other standards. The "C" and/or "US" mark must be present to indicate certification to ASME A112.18.1/CSA B 125.

NSF International

Formerly the National Sanitary Foundation, the basic NSF International certification mark must include a "C" or "US" or both, or a notation such as "U.P.Code" or "I.P.Code" to indicated the national standard with which the faucet complies. If the faucet has been certified only under the lead-free standard, one of the notations in the bottom row will be shown and an additional mark indicating compliance with ASME A112.18.1/CSA B 125 must also be present.

Underwriters Laboratories (UL)

Faucets displaying the (UL) mark have been evaluated and found to comply with all applicable nationally recognized health effect and performance standards, and have demonstrated compliance with both the IPC and UPC plumbing codes. The notations "CA", "US" or "CA & US" may be shown to indicate compliance with Canadian and/or U.S. standards.

Water Quality Association

The WQA mark indicates faucet compliance with either ASME A112.18.1/CSA B 125, ANSI/NSF 61 or ANSI/NSF 372, which will be identified as part of the mark.
plumbing code, but local governments are usually permitted to adopt their own plumbing codes or modify the state or provincial code to fit local needs. Rather than research and write such a complicated law, virtually all jurisdictions have adopted one of the model plumbing codes.

There are four model plumbing codes in North America, and every state and province has adopted one of them, except Kentucky. (See the Quick Guide to State Plumbing Codes, below): These codes have slight variations in their requirements for plumbing systems, but they all have at least one thing in common. They have all adopted exactly the same standards for household faucets, even Kentucky, which has enacted a plumbing code not based on any of these model codes.

The people who write plumbing codes are usually not engineers. They are typically industry volunteers who donate their time to the process. They rely on engineers to figure out the necessary standards. In the U.S.the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) determines what standards a household sink faucet should meet. In Canada it is the Canadian Standards Association (now CSA Group). Years ago these two organization got together and developed joint u.S./Canadian standards for faucets and the code writers merely incorporate these requirements into the plumbing codes. State, provincial and local governments then adopt the codes, and they become the law.

There are three "plumbing code" standards that address potential problems with faucets.

ASME A112.18.1/CSA B125.1
Performance standards for faucets, covering design and general use, are embodied in ASME A112.18.1 for the U.S. and CSA B125.1 for Canada. These standards have been what the standards writers call "harmonized", that is, they have been made essentially the same for both countries, which is why a faucet legal for use in San Francisco is also likely to be legal in Ottawa, and vice versa. The combined standard is usually written as ASME A112.18.1/CSA B125.1.

ANSI/NSF 372
ANSI/NSF 372 is a content standard that limits the amount of lead that may come into contact with the water flowing through a faucets. It specifically addresses lead in faucets and generally follows the testing and standards outlined in the U.S. Safe Drinking Water Act, so that a faucet that meets the standard will also comply with the requirements of the Act.

ANSI/NSF 61
ANSI/NSF 61 is a health standard that tests for various harmful materials that may come in contact with water. The list of materials tested includes lead, arsenic, mercury, cadmium and other materials that may be in the components of a faucet that leach into water passing through a faucet.

Quick Guide to U.S. Plumbing Codes
All plumbing codes in effect in the U.S. require faucets be tested and certified to comply with the joint U.S./Canadian standard for safety and reliability, ASME A112.18.1/CSA B125.1, with the lead free standards for drinking water, ANSI/NSF 372 and with the healthy water standards of ANSI/NSF 61. Faucets that do not meet these standards cannot be lawfully installed in a home water system in any state or territory of the United States.
Legend:
IPC International Plumbing Code, Section 424.1 - Faucets and Fixtures, Approval: Faucets and fixture fittings shall conform to ASME A112.18.1/CSA B125.1. Faucets and fixture fittings that supply drinking water for human ingestion shall conform to the requirements of NSF 61, Section 9.
NSPC National Standard Plumbing Code, published by the National Association of Plumbing Heating-Cooling Contractors since 1933, Section 3.4.6: Limits on Lead Content provides that "materials used in the potable water supply system, including faucets and valves, shall not contain more than an average of 0.25 percent lead" and "drinking water system components shall comply with the lead leachate requirements .... of NSF 61/9". ASME A12.18.1/CSA 125.1 is identified in Table 3.1.3: as the standard for faucets.
UPC Uniform Plumbing Code, Section 403.3.2.1: The following standards are adopted as plumbing material, performance requirements, and labeling standards for plumbing fixture fittings. Faucets, aerators, and shower heads shall meet either the ANSI/ASME standard or the CSA standard: ASME A112.18.1, CSA B125-1....Fixture fittings covered under the scope of ANSI/NSF 61 shall be in accordance with the requirements of ANSI/NSF 61.
State Code State Code
AlabamaIPC MontanaUPC
AlaskaUPC NebraskaUPC
ArizonaUPC NevadaUPC
ArkansasIPC New HampshireIPC
California1UPC New JerseyNSPC
Colorado2IPC New MexicoUPC
Connec­ticutIPC New YorkIPC
DelawareIPC North CarolinaIPC
FloridaIPC North DakotaIPC
GeorgiaIPC OhioIPC
HawaiiUPC OklahomaIPC
IdahoUPC OregonUPC
IllinoisIPC Penn­sylvaniaIPC
IndianaUPC Rhode IslandIPC
IowaUPC South CarolinaIPC
Kansas3IPC South DakotaUPC
Kentucky4---- TennesseeIPC
LouisianaNSPC TexasIPC
MaineUPC Utah IPC
MarylandIPC VermontIPC
Massa­chu­setts5UPC VirginiaIPC
MichiganIPC WashingtonUPC
Minne­sota5UPC West VirginiaIPC
Missis­sippiUPC WisconsinUPC
MissouriIPC WyomingIPC

Amer. SamoaUPC Puerto RicoIPC
GuamIPC Virgin IslandsIPC
Marianas (Saipan)UPC Washington, D.C.UPC

Table Notes:
1. California: In addition to the requirements specified in the IPC, requires that sink faucets be approved by the California Energy Commission and be listed as accepted products before they can be sold, offered for sale or installed in the state. The most recent change to California regulations permits a water flow from lavatory faucets not to exceed 1.2 gallons per minute (gpm) and not more than 1.8 gpm in kitchen sink faucets. The U.S. standard, made nationwide by the Energy Policy and Conservation Act is 2.2 gpm.
2. Colorado also requires that all bathroom sink faucets be qualified under the EPA Watersense® program.
3. Kansas Plumbing codes are adopted by each city and county, but it appears that all jurisdictions in Kansas have adopted the International Plumbing Code.
4. Kentucky The Kentucky Plumbing Code and regulations developed by the Department of Housing, Buildings & Construction require that faucets installed in Kentucky meet "applicable standards" which Kentucky regulators have interpreted to mean compliance with A112.18.1/CSA B125.1, ANSI/NSF 372 and ANSI/NSF 61.
5. Massachusetts, in addition to the requirements specified in the UPC, requires that sink faucets be approved by the Massachusetts Board of Registration of Plumbers and Gas Fitters and be listed as a Massachusetts Accepted Plumbing Products before they can be installed in the state.
5. Minnesota has adopted the UPC as of January 23, 2016.
No government agency performs tests to ensure faucets comply with plumbing codes. They just publish the regulations and leave it up to the faucet industry to police itself. It is all handled privately. ASME, CSA and ANSI authorize organizations to certify faucets. These are identified in the panel at right. Faucets are submitted to one of these accredited organizations and tested by an approved laboratory. If they pass the tests, they are "listed" in a "Certificate of Listing".

A company like Delta that sells nearly 100 different faucets may have a listing certificate that goes on and on for dozens of pages. If a faucet does not appear in a certificate of listing, then no matter how long or loudly the faucet seller insists that it complies with the plumbing codes, it, in fact, does not. The codes require that the faucet be tested and "listed" as certified. So, if it is in compliance it will be listed. If it's not listed, it's not in compliance. Pretty simple. Click here to view a typical certificate of listing for

To meet the requirements of A112.18.1/CSA B125.1 a faucet must undergo an daunting battery of tests to ensure that its mechanical operation is safe, robust and reliable.

Testing Valves and Cartridges


Faucet valves and cartridges are given a lot of attention because they are the most critical part of a faucet. A faucet may discolor or rust until it is as ugly as a mortal. It handle may loosen, even fall off. But, as long as its valve or cartridge works, it can control water, which is the essential function of a faucet. So, testing pays particular attention to the durability of valves and cartridges. (For more detail on the types of valves and cartridges used in faucets, read Faucet Valves & Cartridges .)

The standard test for cartridges and valves used in the U.S. and Canada requires operating the faucet through 500,000 cycles under 60 of water pressure without a single failure. At one cycle per second, the test takes six 24-hour days to complete. Five hundred thousand cycles is equivalent to about 70 years of ordinary kitchen fau­cet use. In other countries the standard is much less rigorous. The European (EN 817) and Chinese (GB18145) requirement is just 70,000 cycles. (For a video showing the operation of the type of machine that puts faucets through life-cycle testing, go here. Warning: it's very noisy.)

Some ceramic cartridges are tested to tougher standards. Fau­cet makers can request more cycles. has tested its new Diamond Seal Technology valves through 5 million cycles, or about 700 years of ordinary kitchen use. (Our guess is that it is probably a very reliable valve. But, it's still too early to tell for sure. Check back in 20 years or so and we'll have a better idea of its longevity and durability.)

These tests have limitations, however, which is why a fau­cet valve that should last 70+ years in home use will probably not last quite that long in your actual kitchen. The culprit is hard water. Faucets are tested in crystal clear, often distilled, water. Testing labs don't want their testing apparatus gunked up with mineral deposits, so they eliminate minerals from the water used for testing.

Who Enforces Faucet Safety?


In the U.S. fau­cet certification and the enforcement of compliance with fau­cet standards is highly decentralized. As with many building and consumer products, government's involvement is limited to adopting the standards as law, then leaving it to industry to ensure that the fau­cets comply with the law. With faucets, some of the law is federal, some statewide and some entirely local.

Federal Enforcement


Certain requirements are a matter of federal law and have national scope.

The Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975 as amended in 1992 limits sink fau­cets to a maximum water flow of 2.2 gallons per minute (GPM) at a pressure of 60 . The Safe Drinking Water Act as amended in 2011 limits the lead content in faucets to 0.25% starting on January 4, 2014.

Energy Policy and Conservation Act
The maximum flow requirements for faucets "distributed in commerce" (42 U.S.C 6291(16)) are enforced by the Department of Energy's Appliance and Equipment Standards Program. The standard required by law to be used in testing faucets for water conservation is essentially the same as mandated by ASME/ANSI A112.18.1/CSA B125.1. Manufacturers, assemblers, producers and importers of fau­cets offered for sale in the U.S. are required to comply with the maximum flow restrictions and to certify before a fau­cet is put on the market and then annually for as long as the faucet remains on the market that each fau­cet was tested in accordance with the approved test procedures, and meets the standard (10 C.F.R. §429.28).

A faucet that does not complying with the maximum water flow limit or is not certified annually cannot be "distributed in commerce" in the U.S., which generally means that it cannot be imported, advertised or appear in company media such as on a website or in a catalog. It cannot be held for sale, offered for sale or sold. The penalty for violation is $440 per day per faucet, Which can quickly add up to a chunk of change. Ten faucets unlawfully "distributed in commerce" for three months without having been certified can cost $336,000 in penalties.

Safe Drinking Water Act
Section 1417(a)(1) of the Safe Drinking Water Act prohibits any fau­cet "in the installation or repair of (i) any public water system; or (ii) any plumbing in a residential or non-residential facility providing water for human consumption, that is not lead free” as defined in Section 1417(d)." Further, Section 1417(a)(3) makes it unlawful to "introduce into commerce" any fau­cet that is not lead-free. The term "introduce into commerce" is defined as
"to sell in commerce, to import, to introduce or deliver for introduction into commerce, or to hold for sale or distribution after introduction into commerce."
The term "lead-free" is defined as having a weighted average lead content of 0.25% or less in the parts of the faucet that come into contact with water. The Act does not require third party testing and certification. A manufacturer may self-certify so long as it has a "reasonable basis" for concluding its fau­cets are lead free under the Act. The EPA's interpretation is that a fau­cet that complies with ANSI/NSF 325 is considered lead free for the purposes of SDWA, so most manufacturers certify under the NSF standards, just to be sure.

State and Local Enforcement


California, Vermont, Maryland and Louisiana have separate state laws that limit the amount of lead content in a fau­cet. In addition to penalties imposed by the federal Safe Drinking Water Act for non-compliance with low-lead laws, the states can also impose state penalties, including criminal sanctions.

But, the main line of defense against unsafe faucets has always been your cheerful local plumbing inspector. The standards specified in ASME A112.18.1/CSA B125.1, ANSI/NSF 372 and ANSI/NSF 61 are enforced as part of state and local plumbing codes. The basic enforcement is that non-complying fau­cets cannot be lawfully installed, and, if installed, must be removed. Usually a licensed plumber will simply refuse to install a fau­cet that does not show the necessary certification and testing marks. Knowing installation of unapproved fau­cets can be grounds for the loss or suspension of a plumber's license. The plumbing inspector commonly will also look for certification marks on the fau­cet. If the owner of an unapproved fau­cet refuses the remove an uncertified fau­cet, then the next step is either a civil suit for an injunction or a misdemeanor citation, or both. Not good news, either way.

Insurance Companies


The final enforcement arm is your insurance company. Insurance companies virtually invented the concept of product testing and certification back when the government was not the least bit interested in such things, and sponsor Underwriters Laboratories which tests and certifies or "lists" complying products, including fau­cets, but also including toasters, dishwashers, fishing rods, flashlights, telephones etc. All homeowner policies require that any plumbing installation meet plumbing codes, and an uncertified fau­cet does not meet code. If a faulty fau­cet causes damage to your house, your insurance company is going to look for the certification mark on the fau­cet. If it is not there, the likelihood that the company will pay for the damage is very small.

This is not, however, the typical household environment in which the fau­cet will be used. City and well water routinely contains an abundance of dissolved minerals which tend to deposit themselves on the inner workings of a fau­cet, and, over time, grind away at the faucet until some part finally gives up and the faucet fails.

Flow Rate
Energy Policy and Conservation Act


Some standards that faucets are required to meet reflect public policy rather the concern for safety. A case in point is the maximum water flow rate allowed in sink faucets. This standard by the Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975 as amended in 1992. The same act that limited toilet flushes to 1.6 gallons per flush also limited showers to a maximum flow rate of 2.5 gallons per minute (gpm) and sink fau­cets to a maximum of 2.2 gpm. This is the law everywhere in the U.S., and similar standards apply in Canada.

Enforcement is the responsibility of the Department of Energy which was charged with coming up with a test to determine water flow rates in fau­cets. It consulted mechanical engineers and came up with flow rate tests that were incorporated into the ASME A112.18.1/CAS b125.1 standard, obviating the need for and cost of separate testing or certification of flow rate. But, in addition, a fau­cet manufacturer or any company that imports a foreign-made faucet has to certify that each and every sink faucet it sells does not exceed this maximum rate, and file a copy of the certification with the Department of Energy each year ( 10 C.F.R. §429.12).

The DOE has been criticised by its own Inspector General for lax enforcement of the filing requirement in the past, and it is still lax. Our most recent review of compliance filings showed, for example, that The primary fault lies not with the DOE, but with a Congress that has starved the Department's enforcement efforts with lack of funding. Often the Department just does not have the money to pursue enforcement actions. Nonetheless, the DOE has done a very poor job of informing the industry about the requirement. An astounding number of the fau­cet companies we interview have no knowledge of that the filing is required or how to go about filing. Nonetheless, fau­cet sellers who do not file can be socked with very large civil penalties. It's just rarer than it should be.

an American company that imports and sells Asian fau­cets under the Artisan brand, avoided a nearly half million dollar penalty for failing to comply with the registration requirement by entering into a settlement agreement (Order: 2010-CW-0712) that required it to certify all of its fau­cets, and pay a significantly reduced penalty. Afeel Corporation, the importer of fau­cets, also avoided a substantial civil penalty for non-compliance by entering into a settlement agreement (Order 2010-CW-07/1414).

An increasing number of statewide and local plumbing or conservation codes permit even less water flow than the federal rules allow. Some are voluntary. Bathroom fau­cets complying with the EPA's WaterSense® program are allowed a maximum flow rate of 1.5 GPM (5.7 l/m) which is also the maximum flow rate in Europe and much of Asia. Watersense has not established a maximum flow for kitchen faucets.

Some state restrictions are, however, mandatory. California recently published the most restrictive water flow limits in North America in response to the Great California Drought. Executive Order B-29-15 restricts the flow rate of bathroom sink fau­cets to a maximum of 1.2 gallons per minute and makes the CalGreen 1.8 gpm maximum flow rate for kitchen sink fau­cets mandatory rather than voluntary. A kitchen sink fau­cet may have a momentary capacity of 2.2 gallons per minute to fill pots. These requirements, effective on July 1, 2016 , prohibit a fau­cet from being sold or installed in California that does not meet these restrictions. Faucet companies are scrambling to comply, which requires not only that faucets be modified, sometimes just a matter of changing to a more restrive aerator, but of having the fau­cets retested and certified for compliance with the new lower flow, an expensive and often time-consuming process. Many fau­cets, however, already meet the standard, and you can find out which ones do by researching a faucet in the California Energy Commission list of approved products.

In our reviews and ratings of faucet companies, we will note the companies that comply with the California flow requirements in reports published after July, 2016.

In fau­cets sold in North America there is a flow rate to suit just about any regulation. We looked at a selection of Delta fau­cets in preparing this article and found stated flow rates of 1.2, 1.5, 1.8 and 2.2 gpm. Some fau­cets are available with variable flow rates — when ordering, you specify the flow rate just like you specify the fau­cet finish. Many fau­cets made for the Asian and European markets are pre-set with the European standard flow rate of 1.5 gpm. But, fau­cets designed to be sold in North America are often manufactured with a maximum normal flow rate of 2.2 GPM. If a lower flow rate is required, then a device called a flow restrictor is inserted somewhere in the water channel to further restrict flow. It is often a part of the aerator.

By the way, if the lavatory in the wash room of your favorite eatery seems much slower than your home fau­cet, it actually is. The maximum flow rate for most public fau­cets by federal law is a miserly 0.5 gpm (1.9 LPM) — slightly more than a trickle. Some fau­cets, however, are not restricted. For example your tub spout (technically a tub filler fau­cet) has no official flow limit. Its job is to fill the tub. If your tub holds 50 gallons, then that's the amount of water it will take to fill the tub. Filling it more slowly does not save any water (but does greatly increase irritation). The flow rate is, therefore, unrestricted (except by the size of your water pipes, which usually imposes a maximum flow limit of about 5 gpm, at best).

Lead Content
(ANSI/NSF 372)


Most of the standards a fau­cet must meet are contained in ASME A112.18.1/CSA B125.1, but at least one is not — metallic lead limits. Faucets are strictly regulated as to how much lead they may contain, and this requirement is not just a part of the local plumbing code, it is also a federal law that prohibits the introduction of a fau­cet "into commerce" and prohibits the installation of a fau­cet in a public or private drinking water system unless it complies with federal lead free requirements.

The Germs Inside Your Faucets


The extensive national effort to remove lead from faucets and to restrict water flow the ever lower rates to conserve both water and energy is having some unexpected consequences. Studies are finding an apparently increasing problem of the build up of micro organisms that are finding happy homes inside our faucets.

The traditional material for faucets is brass. Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc with small amounts of other metals, including lead.

The copper in brass is anti-microbial — it kills germs — although no one yet quite understands exactly how the process works. What we do know is that most bacteria cannot survive in the presence of brass. In tests on colonies of E. Coli bacteria conducted by the EPA, 99.9% of the colony was killed after two hours of exposure to brass, and EPA research showed that the metal continued to "inhibit the buildup and growth of bacteria", even when severely tarnished.

The push to remove lead from faucets has resulted in faucets designed to keep water inside the faucet from touching brass. This prevents lead from leaching into drinking water, but also keeps the water from coming in contact with the anti-microbial effect of copper in the faucet's brass alloy.

With fast flowing water inside your faucet, bacteria is usually not a problem. The bacteria simply wash away. But when water slows or stops flowing it can collect as tiny static pools inside your faucet and any bacteria in the water can be afforded a sterling opportunity to establish a cozy colony. Water supplies to you house are usually treated with a chemical, typically chlorine, to kill germs, but it does not kill every germ, so there are always some micro-organisms in your household water. These are species that can live with great contentment on the inside surfaces of your faucets, where some of them build up "biofilms" — often appearing as colored slime — that water flowing at low volume cannot easily dislodge.

It has been known for years that the style of a faucet can have an impact on bacteria growth. Gooseneck faucets, for example, are known the harbor germs at the high arc of the spout, where water flow is slowest. In fact, any place inside the faucet where water flow is slowed can become a breeding ground for bacteria. That faster water flows reduce pathogens in faucets was shown by a 2011 study by Nakamura et. al. published in Health which found that increasing the flow of water trough a faucet decreases the build up of bacteria.

A 2014 study in an Italian hospital reported in the February issue of Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology found that bacteria tend to build up in the pool that collects behind aerators. The study found that the microbial buildup in the faucet was ten times greater than in the water pipes supplying the faucet, and that these microbes included the bacteria that cause Legionnaires Disease. Removing the aerators to increase water flow significantly reduced contamination.

In 2011 researchers at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore found electronic(hands free) faucets, which flowed at a much slower rate than manual faucets, were twice as likely to harbor harmful bacteria than manually operated faucets. Flushing the faucets with chlorine reduced but did not eliminate the contamination. The hospital, which had begun to install hands-free faucets in a new wing in response to reports that showed a potential for faucet handles to harbor bacteria, reversed course and removed all of its electronic faucets.

In October 2015, at the VA hospital in Pittsburgh, a patient actually contracted Legionnaires Disease. The Legionella bacteria were found in a faucet near the patient's room and in two other faucets in the hospital. More recently, in November 2015, an outbreak of Legionnaires Disease in a Syracuse, New York, hospital was traced to low-flow faucets installed in a new wing of the hospital to reduce water consumption.

So far the problem with pathogens in faucets has not caught the public's attention and faucet companies are doing little to address the potential problems. Some faucet manufacturers are starting to add anti-microbial materials and coatings to faucets, but the purpose of these agents is less to combat disease than to make the faucet easier to care for. for example, is now adding Microban® to its faucets to combat bacterial growth on its external finishes. According to Microban®, its EPA-approved antimicrobial technology is infused into the faucet finish during the manufacturing process and becomes a permanent part of the faucet allowing Microban® technology to work continuously for durable, long lasting antimicrobial protection. The proprietary formula reportedly will not "wash off or wear away with normal use. We suspect that the "proprietary formula" probably contains a lot of copper.


Most fau­cets are made of brass, and brass is a metal alloy that may contain small amounts of lead. (see What are Faucets Made of? for more information). Prior to 2014, brass in faucets in the U.S. could contain up to 8% lead and still be called "lead free" as long as they did not leach more than 11 parts lead per billion parts water (11 ppb) into the water flowing through the fau­cet. However, the process used to test for leaching developed by the National Sanitary Foundation (now NSF International) as ANSI/NSF 61, Section 9 (ANSI/NSF 61/9): Drinking Water Systems Components - Health Effects) was characterized by environmentalist experts as "unduly generous"1, and likened to testing an automobile's crash-worthiness by driving it into a "pile of pillows". Most studies showed that "lead free" brass fau­cets actually leached much more lead that the NSF test identified.

Slow action by Congress to strengthen national lead-free standards prompted some states to pass laws that more stringently limited lead in water-supply fixtures. California's AB1953 enacted Section 16875 of the California Health and Safety Code that mandates lead content of less than a "weighted average" of 0.25%. Beginning January 1, 2010, no fau­cet that does not meet this standard could be "introduced into commerce" in the Golden State. Vermont enacted almost identical legislation (Vermont Act 193), as did Maryland (HB 172) and Louisiana. Weighted Average means that some components of a fau­cet may contain more than 0.25% lead so long as they are offset by other components that contain less than 0.25& lead so that the average of all the components in the fau­cet do not contain more than 0.25% lead.

Protect Against Lead in Your Water


Lead in drinking water is toxic. Infants and children who drink water containing lead could experience delays in their physical or mental Toxic Warning Sign development. Children could show slight deficits in attention span and learning abilities. Adults who drink this water over many years could develop kidney problems or high blood pressure.

Water treatment facilities are strictly regulated for the amount of lead they can have in their drinking water, so if your water is rated safe, it has little lead. But, lead can also get in your water by a process called leaching by which water picks up small amounts of lead by coming in contact with lead sources in your household plumbing. Old lead pipes and lead solder joints are the usual suspects, as is the brass in fau­cets that could contain as much as 8% lead prior to January 2014.

Many local water systems add chemicals such as polyphosphates or metasilicate, to reduce lead leaching, and old pipes tend to corrode over time and the corrosive coating helps prevent leaching, The best way to find out if your water contains lead and other potentially harmful contaminants is to have it tested, a peace of mind process that usually costs less than $25.00.

While there is very little lead in most household water, even tiny amounts of lead ingested over a long period of time can be harmful. Fortunately, there are things you can do to reduce every this minimal exposure to lead.
• Use only cold water for drinking or cooking. Hot water leaches more lead than cold water.
• Let water run for up for a while before using it. Water left standing in your pipes leaches more lead than water quickly flowing through your pipes. Flush the standing water out by running the water until all the old water is gone, usually 30 seconds is enough.
• Install a drinking water purification system with an activated carbon filter that eliminates most contaminants, including bad tastes and odors like chlorine. Standard 53-certified filters also can substantially reduce many hazardous contaminants, including heavy metals such as copper, lead and mercury; disinfection byproducts; parasites such as Giardia and Cryptosporidium; pesticides; radon; and volatile organic chemicals such as methyl-tert-butyl ether (MTBE), dichloro­benzene and trichloroethylene (TCE). Often these filters are encased in a convenient cartridge for that makes changing them easy and hassle free. And, by the way, if you are going to filter your water, don't forget the water in your refrigerator icemaker.

Learn more about how we use, and waste, household water at Saving Household Water


Finally, in 2011 a mildly embarrassed Congress got off its fat duff and stiffened the federal lead-free requirement. The new federal standard contained in Section 417(d) of the Safe Drinking Water Act, effective as of January 4, 2014, reduces allowable lead content from the former 8.0% to the California standard of a "weighted average" of 0.25% or less.

Manufacturers have dealt with the lead problem in several ways. Some have eliminated lead altogether by fashioning their fau­cets our of plastic parts (not good) or stainless steel (very good). Others plate the brass parts with a non-toxic metal such as copper, or coat the brass with a chemicals, to eliminate lead/water contact. Delta has re-engineered its Diamond Seal Technology fau­cets so the water channels inside are separate from the fau­cet body and spout. The water never touches metal, so it cannot pick up any lead.

In response to the new federal law, the lead content allowed by ANSI/NSF 372 has been changed so that a fau­cet that meets the standard also meets the new federal standard. California, Louisiana, Maryland and Vermont have also coordinated their requirements, so that a fau­cet that passes ANSI/NSF 372 also complies with state law2.

Health Effects
(ANSI/NSF 61)


However, lead testing goes beyond the composition limits of ANSI/NSF 372. Plumbing codes also require a second test for what is called "leaching".

As water passes through a faucet, it can pick up minerals from the faucet, including lead and some other potentially toxic compounds. This process is called leaching. The standards for maximum amouts of leaching are set out in ANSI/NSF 61/9 "drinking water system components - health effects". The current lead limit is 5 parts per billion (ppb). Other regulated3 "heavy metals" that are potentially toxic are also tested, including arsenic, barium, cadmium, (hexavalent) chromium, mercury, selenium and silver. Still other metals that are not particularly toxic, but which could affect the taste or appearance of water, like nickel and copper, are tested against maximum allowable concentrations.

The irony is that, after all this fuss about lead in fau­cets, fau­cets are usually not the primary source of lead in household water supplies. Old pipes were often lead, and even after copper became the standard, it was usually soldered with lead solder until lead was outlawed in 1986. If your old house water pipes are galvanized steel or black iron, they probably have a number of problems by now, but none of them is lead contamination. Plastic pipes are safe from lead, but have a number of other problems, and cannot be used in many localities, including most places in Nebraska that aren't farmland. The answer may be PEX, an engineered material made of cross-linked polyethylene formed into a hose. Stronger and more flexible than copper, and less susceptible to damage from freezing, it has gained wide-spread acceptance in the plumbing trades for most household water supply applications.

The Cost of Certification


Testing and Certification is costly. It can cost as much as $5,000 to test and certify a fau­cet (although when tested in quantity the per faucet cost is often substantially less). Certifying faucets is a substantial investment by the fau­cet company, particularly one that offers dozens different fau­cets and finishes. Testing has an effect on the price of the fau­cet to the consumer. A fau­cet made in China may sell for 60% of the U.S. price for the same fau­cet. The difference is largely the expense of initial certification and the ongoing cost of maintaining certification.

A fau­cet is not just tested once, then allowed to coast. Most certification organizations periodically test samples drawn at random from the production line or warehouse shelves, and if the fau­cet fails the re-test, it loses its certification. Obviously, this serves to keep fau­cet manufacturers on their toes, but also is a serious additional expense.

Some companies save the cost of certification and give themselves a competitive advantage, albeit, an illegal advantage, by not certifying their fau­cets. Our in house mathematician, using all of his fingers and toes, calculated that the various certification, filing and registration requirements add up to $16.80 to the cost of a single faucet, so the cost savings to the faucet company can be substantial. But, since faucet certification lists are public documents, its simple to find out which companies are cheating.

Home      « Previous Page      Next Page »      Index to Articles

Rev: 08/16/16
Notes:
1. Mathew L. Wald, "A New Standard for Lead in Faucets", New York Times, November 3, 1994, quoting Philip J. Landrigan, head of the department of environmental medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital.
2. ANSI/NSF 372 is consistent with testing methods specified by the California Department of Toxic Substances Control for testing lead content of fau­cets sold in California.
3. Certain heavy metals that are potentially toxic are regulated under the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act administerd by the EPA which develops regulations, guidance and policies that ensure the safe management and cleanup of solid and hazardous waste, and programs that encourage source reduction and beneficial reuse. The regulated metals are arsenic, barium, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury, selenium and silver. These are often referred to as the "RCRA 8".