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Identifying and Purchasing Lead-Free Faucets

Do faucets have lead?

Most faucets purchased prior to 1997 were constructed of brass or chrome-plated brass containing up to 8 percent lead. Water sitting overnight (or for several hours) in a brass faucet tends to leach lead from the brass faucet interior which may produce relatively high lead levels in the first draw of drinking water. Lead is of potential health concern, especially for children and pregnant women, since it can build up in the body and cause damage to the brain, red blood cells, and kidneys.

How can I tell if a new faucet is "lead free"?

Faucet manufacturers responding to recent regulations have decreased or eliminated the lead in residential kitchen faucets, bathroom faucets, bar faucets, drinking fountains, and icemakers. The national standard for certifying the "lead free" status of plumbing fixtures is National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) International Standard 61-Section 9. NSF provides catalogs and a computer web site listing approved "lead free" fixtures. NSF can be reached at 1-800-NSF-MARK or www.nsf.org. New faucets meeting the NSF 61 standard will have NSF 61/9 stamped on the new faucet’s cardboard box.

Note that the term "lead free" may be misleading since its legal definition allows a faucet to leach up to 11 parts per billion (ppb) of lead using a standard test protocol. The national action level for lead in drinking water is 15 ppb. California has a stricter standard for faucet lead leaching via Proposition 65 and can leach up to 5 ppb of lead and bathroom faucets can leach up to 11 ppb. Any faucet sold in California, which does not meet the California standard, must have a Proposition 65-package warning insert or a warning hang tag.

If your new faucet has both a NSF 61/9 stamp on the cardboard box and has no Proposition 65 warning, then your faucet is both a "lead-free" and an ultra low-lead faucet. This is the most desirable faucet.

Are there any faucets with no lead at all?

Some faucet manufactures produce plastic faucets that have virtually zero lead. Other manufactures are substituting other metals for the lead in the brass, inserting copper tubes inside the brass faucets, or applying special coatings on the inside of the faucets in order to minimize or eliminate lead leaching.

Does it really matter if I have an ultra-low lead faucet?

In extreme cases older faucets can contribute up to one-third of the lead in the first-draw of water in the morning with the remainder coming from other plumbing such as pre-1988 lead solder joints in copper pipes. Residents who let the water run at the tap in the morning for one minute and use cold water for cooking should have little concern with respect to lead in the drinking water. If residents are still concerned, they can request from their water supplier a lead test (at a nominal charge that can be waived under special circumstances) or a list of local laboratories approved for lead testing. Residents always have the option of replacing an older kitchen or bathroom faucet with a new ultra-low lead faucet.
Do some plumbing fixtures still contain lead?

Federal and State lead regulations do not cover hose bibs, bathtub fixtures, shower heads, and industrial faucets. Avoid drinking or cooking with water from these fixtures. Since the year 2000, all kitchen faucets sold in California have been ultra-low lead. Beginning in 2010, when any water fixtures and fittings intended to convey drinking water are replaced, they must be replaced with ultra-low lead products (containing no more than 0.25% lead).

Is drinking water the main source of lead exposure?

Lead contamination from lead-based paint, dirt, and dust accounts for most of the exposure. Lead from drinking water accounts for about 20 percent of a person’s exposure to lead. The two most cost effective ways to minimize lead exposure from drinking water are to 1) flush the kitchen faucet for one minute in the morning or after coming home from school/work and 2) use only cold water for drinking and cooking.

How do I get information about lead in my drinking water?

The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) will provide lead information and products for lead detection and removal via the Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Branch (CLPPB) website or by calling (510) 620-5600.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) operates a National Lead Information Center at (800) 424-LEAD [5323] or can be reached at its website http://www.epa.gov/lead/index.html.

Our Water Quality Bureau can provide information on the quality of your water and can be reached at (650) 652-3100 or email quality@sfwater.org

San Francisco residents may call the San Francisco Department of Public Health’s Environmental Health Section strives to promote health and quality of life in San Francisco by ensuring healthy living and working conditions in the City and County of San Francisco. Please call (415) 252-3800 if you are concerned that a young child may be exposed to lead hazards. This health office will investigate and order safe remediation of any identified lead hazards.

Last updated: 6/30/2011 9:50:09 AM