Why Your Faucet May Have Dangerously High Levels of Lead
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One of the most critical functions of government is to protect our health from hidden dangers in our homes, schools, and workplaces. In particular, we rely upon our government to protect us from dangers that we, as individuals, are powerless to address. Major milestones in the field of public health improvements in the last century include vanquishing threats like botulism, smallpox, and polio, as well as protecting people and the environment by tackling chemical contamination left over from decades of unregulated dumping of hazardous wastes. Today, we face another urgent call for our government to step in and protect future generations from a serious health threat that lurks in schools and homes.
Hundreds of recent health studies prove exceedingly low levels of lead exposure are dangerous – even at levels that were previously believed “safe.” Small amounts of lead leaching from our plumbing can cause kidney disease, hypertension, reduced brain function, hearing loss, nervous system disorders, bone marrow damage, and even death. Lead in the bloodstream robs us of our future because it is even more toxic to children. There is simply no reason that lead should still be allowed in our drinking water plumbing.
In response to the dangers of lead, our government has taken steps to reduce our exposure. In the 1970s, the use of lead in paint and gasoline was phased out. In 1986, a federal law was enacted to reduce lead in our drinking water plumbing. However, faucets sold today can still contain up to a quarter pound of lead and still be labeled as “lead-free” under the 1986 federal law. Here is how it works.
This 1986 federal law, and a subsequent amendment in 1996, established requirements for “lead free” drinking water plumbing. However, under the heading of “things aren’t always what they seem to be,” this federal law actually allows up to 4 percent lead content in faucets and up to 8 percent lead in drinking water pipes. The typical household faucet weighs about six and a half pounds. That means a typical household faucet can contain up to a quarter pound of lead and still be labeled “lead free” under the federal safe drinking water law. We’ve long known that lead contained in a faucet or other household plumbing will leach into the drinking water as that water passes through the plumbing. So how safe can a faucet be that contains a quarter pound of lead?
CaliforniaPioneers the Path
Congresswoman Anna Eshoo (D-California) wants to remedy this injustice and has introduced a federal bill, H.R. 5289, to truly eliminate lead from our drinking water plumbing. H.R. 5289 is closely patterned after legislation that I authored while serving in the California Legislature.
In February 2006, while serving as the chair of the Assembly Health Committee in the California Legislature, I introduced a bill to create the toughest lead standard in the world for drinking water plumbing. The plumbing industry fought hard to weaken the law (sound familiar?) as it moved through the California Legislature. Having failed in that effort, they made an aggressive pitch to Governor Schwarzenegger to veto my bill, claiming that the lead standard in my bill could not be manufactured by the faucet industry. But Governor Schwarzenegger showed a strong commitment to a more healthy future for our children and he signed my Assembly Bill 1953 into law. Today, every major plumbing company is manufacturing and selling faucets in California that meet this tough new lead standard which will help achieve “zero leaching of lead” from faucets in homes and in our schools. I am proud that California became the first state (and the first government in the world) to enact a lead content standard this stringent for protecting children’s health. Since California enacted this new lead content standard for drinking water plumbing, two other states – Vermont and Maryland – have also enacted statutes modeled after my bill. With Representative Eshoo’s H.R. 5289, this same vital public health benefit can be enjoyed by the entire nation.