California Lead Regulation Deadline Closing In

Ever since governments have existed, there has been regulation. From seat belts to the “V” chip, the good and the bad initiatives have usually been met with a fight.

No matter what the size of your decorative plumbing and hardware business, change is a frightening thing, especially when it is thrust upon us with a non-negotiable time line. In view of the new lead regulation from California AB 1953, the initial reaction from the manufacturing side was that the requirement was not feasible given that the known materials necessary for compliance were not produced in quantities sufficient to meet demand. Then it all just appeared to go silent. There was an occasional article reiterating the same story of supply and demand, but no real solutions were being trumpeted.

Now, with less than a year until the law takes effect, we are still facing a frightening change, yet no one seems to know what to do next.

Mandated Changes

Let’s first look at the change. California AB 1953 mandates that the lead in the material that delivers consumable water from a fixture cannot exceed 0.25%. The law only affects water delivery devices that are intended to provide water for cooking or drinking. It does not apply to showers, tubs and the like. This law goes into effect on January 1, 2010 in the states of California and Vermont (recently passed S152).

California has not yet approved a methodology for approving acceptable water delivery devices that comply with the legislative mandate. Plumbing fixtures are presently required to meet maximum lead content requirements via leachate testing. This test protocol, conducted through certified, independent laboratories, measures the level of lead in a water sample that has been held in contact with the subject fitting to ensure maximum levels are not exceeded.

For the new requirement, two options are being considered. One proposal, a bill being introduced to the state legislature, would empower the California Department of Toxic Substance Control to randomly purchase 75 drinking water plumbing fittings and fixtures each year for testing and evaluation. Another alternative empowers independent labs to continue to test each affected fixture and certify its compliance with the 0.25% maximum lead content material requirement in addition to maximum leachate levels.

As the date of implementation approaches, manufacturers will likely continue to use independent labs to test their products, ensuring that their fixtures comply with the lead content mandate. Once products have been certified, manufacturers will be informing the general market that their products comply.

Potential Impact

So, how will this impact your business? Regardless of where your showroom or manufacturing facility is located, if your business supplies plumbing fixtures to customers living in California or Vermont, those products must comply with this standard. If a non-complying product is installed on a job in California or Vermont, an inspector can tag it for removal – period. That is the major short-term effect on distributors, dealers or installers.

The more global impact of this legislation is two-fold. First, there are jobs that can easily take more than a year from first consultation to final installation. If you’re working on a job such as this in California or Vermont, please check with the specified manufacturers to make sure the subject products will be compliant and ready to ship when the job needs them, while keeping in mind time lines related to the overall project. For example, a wall-mounted lavatory faucet uses a rough valve that will likely be installed long before the spout and handles. Both the rough valve and the spout, however, must meet the 0.25% requirement.

Another major effect of California AB 1953 is the impact of precedence. Rumors have it that Massachusetts and Washington are prepared to bring similar proposals to their legislatures with other states not far behind. The effect will undoubtedly mirror that of the 1.6 gallon per flush water closet mandate and Proposition 65, now referred to as the NSF 61 requirement. As we’ve seen before, once these issues gain a foothold in a large market, they eventually become common practice.

Secondly, California is the tenth largest market in the world. It is safe to assume that many manufacturers will be shipping 0.25% lead-compliant products not only to California but also throughout the entire U.S. to avoid inventory segregation issues and in recognition of the momentum of this precedence. As a result, there is a strong possibility of uncharacteristic shipping delays. If you’re working on projects with a hard time line, check with the manufacturer to ensure those products will arrive on time.

The new regulation might result in the loss of a few old friends. Every manufacturer has products that have been with our industry for a few decades. If sales have slipped for certain products over time, manufacturers may come to realize that it’s not cost effective to incur transition costs associated with meeting the new requirement. Be prepared to receive discontinuation notices on some niche products.

Manufacturers interviewed for this column report that they have the situation well in hand. They are all in various stages of finalizing their strategies as deadlines approach.

However, in speaking to a group of distributors and dealers from both northern and southern California, only two showrooms reported that they had heard from a supplier on this issue. Whether in America, Italy, France, Germany, China or other locations where plumbing fixtures are produced, almost every manufacturer has largely remained publicly silent. The dealers and distributors even admitted that the entire idea of Assembly Bill 1953 was completely off of their radar.

It’s not uncommon for certain jobs to be specified more than a year before inspections. In view of this, a dealer stated: “I don’t know what manufacturers we can confidently specify on a properly planned job.” In this dearth of information, it’s up to dealers and distributors to be proactive and to contact their manufacturers.

I suggest that distributors and dealers doing business in the states of California and Vermont take the following actions. E-mail your fixture manufacturers and your representatives and request an update on their strategy for complying with California Assembly Bill 1953. This correspondence should focus on when they will be shipping compliant product and how it may affect delivery. Make sure you send your request in writing to ensure proper documentation.

Don’t sit back and wait. Review proposed plans and projects that you have in your pipeline and develop a strategy now for when the law takes effect. Know which manufacturers have plans to comply and when they will ship compliant products. Having an action plan will provide a short-term competitive advantage over businesses that wake up January 1, 2010 and say, “I have to do what?”

Remember, as a distributor or dealer, you have the final responsibility to ensure that your product lines and inventories meet all regulatory requirements.

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