Faucet Basics: Part 3
Keeping Faucets Safe & Reliable
Faucets are strictly regulated products in 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 levels 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 many laws that regulate them.
State and Provincial plumbing codes are the public's first line of defense against an unreliable or dangerous faucet. In all Canadian provinces and American states, there is a province- or state-wide 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.
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".
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.
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 (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 meets the applicable U.S. standards. A CSA mark with both indicators, "C" and "US", or "NRTL/C" means that the product meets both U.S. and Canadian standards.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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):
- International Plumbing Code (IPC), the most widely adopted code in the U.S. holding sway in the Northeast and Southern States is published by the International Code Council (ICC).
- Uniform Plumbing Code (UPC), the oldest model plumbing code, maintained and published by the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO) since 1927 has been adopted by most of the Western and Midwestern United States.
- National Standard Plumbing Code (NSPC), published by the National Association of Plumbing Heating-Cooling Contractors since 1933. Louisiana and New Jersey are the two states still using this model code as the basis for their state plumbing codes.
- National Plumbing Code of Canada (NPC) published by the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) is the most widely adopted code in Canada.
These codes have slight variations in their requirements for plumbing systems, but they all have 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 B125.1Conformation and 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 372ANSI/NSF 372 is a content standard that limits the amount of lead that may come into contact with the water flowing through a faucet. 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 61ANSI/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.
In recent years, these standards have been merged. ANSI/NSF 372 became a section of ANSI/NSF 61 after being adopted by reference. The combined standard is written as ANSI/NSF 61/9, the "9" referring to the section in which ANSI/NSF 372 standards were adopted.
In 2012 ANSI/NSF 61/9 was merged into ASME A112.18.1/CSA 125.1, also by reference.
The result is that a faucet tested and certified as complying with ASME A112.18.1/CSA 125.1 in 2012 or later also complies with ANSI/NSF 61/9. (However, to avoid confusion, most testing agencies still issue separate certificates, one for each standard.)
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 a daunting battery of tests to ensure that its mechanical operation is safe, robust and reliable.
- Faucet finishes are tested for durability and longevity by spraying them with chemical concentrations to simulate many years of exposure to the normal household environment which includes typical cleaning solutions.
- Faucets are tested in extremes of heat and cold to duplicate years of mixing hot and cold water and are subjected to many times the normal household water pressure of 60 to see if they can be made to leak.
- Tests ensure that the faucet will maintain a set water temperature and water flow volume without spontaneously changing the temperature or water flow on its own — which would be at minimum annoying and at worst, dangerous.
- Handle stability is tested. Once a handle is put in a specific position, it must stay there without moving away from the set position.
- Testing also ensures that the faucet will work with standard North American faucet fittings. While the rest of the world has gone metric, in North America we still prefer our quaint and archaic "customary units" based on inches and feet. Metric fittings don't work here.
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 sin. Its 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 Basics, Part 2: 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 are 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. 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.
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 in the U.S. 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/CSA 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. 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.
Who Enforces Faucet Safety?
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.
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 ActThe 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 comply 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 accumulate $336,000 in penalties.
Safe Drinking Water ActSection 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 klead-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 klead-free under the Act. The EPA's interpretation is that a faucet that complies with ANSI/NSF 325 is considered klead-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.
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.
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. 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.
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.p> 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 your house are usually treated with a chemical, typically chlorine, to kill germs, but it does not kill every germ, so there are always some microorganisms 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 through 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.
By the way, if the lavatory in the washroom 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).
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 klead-free requirements.
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 "klead-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 "klead-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.
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.
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 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.
Learn more about how we use, and waste, household water at Saving Household Water
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 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.
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 amounts 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. 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 widespread 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 of 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.