The Safe Drinking Water Act and Copper Alloys

Copper and copper alloys have always been important materials for piping, fittings, faucets and other plumbing components. Brass mills manufacturing these alloys and components for plumbing have been at the leading edge of developing lead-free and low lead alloys thereby ensuring that consumers have products that are safe, durable and reliable and meet all the requirements of the Safe Drinking Water Act.

The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) of 1974 governs drinking water quality in both municipalities and rural water districts and was established to minimize chemical and bacterial contamination of drinking water. It was amended in both 1986 and 1996 to strengthen protection of drinking water and its sources.

The most recent change involves the 2011 Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act, which amended section 1417 of the SDWA and became effective on January 4, 2014. This new act made the following changes:

  1. Redefine lead free in SDWA Section 1417(d) to:
    • lower the maximum lead content of the wetted surfaces of plumbing products such as pipes, pipe fittings, plumbing fittings and fixtures from 8.0% to a weighted average of 0.25%;
    • establish a statutory method for the calculation of lead content; and
    • eliminate the requirement that lead free products be in compliance with voluntary standards established in accordance with SDWA 1417(e) for leaching of lead from new plumbing fittings and fixtures.
  2. Create exemptions in SDWA Section 1417(a)(4) from the prohibitions on the use or introduction into commerce for:
    • “pipes, pipe fittings, plumbing fittings or fixtures, including backflow preventers, that are used exclusively for nonpotable services such as manufacturing, industrial processing, irrigation, outdoor watering, or any other uses where the water is not anticipated to be used for human consumption;”  (SDWA 1417(a)(4)(A))
    • “toilets, bidets, urinals, fill valves, flushometer valves, tub fillers, fire hydrants, shower valves, service saddles, or water distribution main gate valves that are 2 inches in diameter or larger.” (SDWA 1417(a)(4)(B))

State and local jurisdictions may have additional limitations or requirements regarding the use or sale and distribution of pipes, pipe or plumbing fittings, or fixtures that contain lead.  Contact your local or State plumbing or drinking water authority to find out more about any additional requirements that may apply.

USEPA has two useful publications with additional information on this topic:

Summary of The Reduction of Lead In Drinking Water Act and Frequently Asked Questions

Commonly Asked Question: Section 1417 of the Safe Drinking Water Act and the NSF Standard

NSF/ANSI Standard 61, Section 9, was completed in 1994. This standard limits the amount of lead and other contaminants that a device may contribute to drinking water and applies to any devices used within the final one liter of volume that exits from a tap or other device. This includes endpoint devices such as faucets, ice makers and water coolers. Products can also be certified as lead-free by complying with either NSF/ANSI Standard 61, Section 9, Annex (G) or NSF/ANSI Standard 372. Both of these standards are based on the language in the Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act.

For additional information regarding this subject, see FAQs: The Safe Drinking Water Act and Copper Alloys.

DISCLAIMER: CDA assumes no responsibility or liability of any kind in connection with this publication or its use by any person or organization, and CDA makes no warranties of any kind hereby or with respect to the information or data contained herein. The statements contained herein are the opinions of CDA based on research of available information. They should not be used as the basis for making any decision regarding products used in potable water systems.