White Paper

White Paper: An Overview Of Regulations For Lead Levels In Drinking Water System Components

Source: Underwriters Laboratories, Inc.

Since the establishment of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) more than 35 years ago, the safety of the U.S. drinking water supply has been an ongoing priority for health regulatory officials. Starting with a list of just 25 potential contaminants in 1974, federal regulations administered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) currently identify maximum concentration levels in drinking water for more than 100 different chemicals. In addition, a number of individual states and local jurisdictions have implemented requirements to ensure the safety of drinking water from source to tap.

While the list of regulated chemicals in drinking water expands as new potential contaminants are identified, the presence of lead continues to receive special scrutiny. Lead is not normally found in source water, but can enter drinking water systems through the corrosion of the pipes and plumbing fixtures. Therefore, regulatory efforts to reduce the presence of lead in drinking water primarily focus on the lead content of drinking water system components.

Among the most recent efforts in this area is the passage of the federal Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act signed into law by President Barack Obama in January 2011. The new law redefines "lead-free" under the SDWA to further restrict permissible levels of lead in drinking water system components. In this case, federal action follows the implementation of strict regulations in California and Vermont, where tighter limits on lead content have been in place since early 2010, and in Maryland where similar restrictions become effective in January 2012.

While the complete implementation of these recent regulatory changes will play out over the next few years, the trend toward increased regulation of the lead content of drinking water system components is clear. Yet, confusion still exists among manufacturers and distributors regarding federal and state requirements for lead content in drinking water system components, and what steps manufacturers should take to ensure that their products are compliant now and in the future.

This white paper from UL presents an overview of the federal and state requirements governing the lead content in drinking water system components. It also reviews and discusses the standards and testing protocols that currently apply to these products as well as anticipated changes in the current standards. Finally, the paper identifies the likely enforcement mechanisms for lead content regulations and outlines compliance options for manufacturers.