Consumers today have many choices when it comes to selecting products to use for home plumbing. Although products such as lead service lines are no longer used due to health concerns, copper, CPVC, PVC, and PEX are just a few of the options available today for residential plumbing uses.
Copper tubing remains the most widely used home plumbing material among homebuilders and homeowners. Professional installation or some plumbing knowledge is usually needed, as the use of soldering compounds or compression fittings is necessary to join the various sections of pipe.
In situations where the pH of the water is below 6.5, there is the potential for copper to leach from the pipe into drinking water above allowable levels. There are several home filters on the market that can reduce excess levels of copper from drinking water. Other options would include using a chemical additive such as soda ash or limestone to raise the pH of the incoming water supply, or using pipes made of materials other than metal, such as PVC or PEX.
Galvanized metal is still used for some residential purposes, such as well casings, although it is not frequently used inside the home today. Rust buildup can occur inside of small-diameter galvanized pipe over time, causing the water flow to become restricted. In some situations, the water coming from the faucet can appear rust-colored when the tap is first turned on, as the scale can discolor the water or break loose from the inside of the pipe.
The revisions to the Safe Drinking Water Act in 1996 resulted in significant revisions to the lead-leaching requirements for materials used in products that come into contact with potable water supplies.
Lead pipes were used many years ago to connect our homes to the water main in the street. As we now know the potential health risks associated with excessive lead levels in water, lead pipe is no longer used and has given way to alternative products, such as copper tubing. Many individuals living in older homes, however, may still have a lead service line. To determine if your home has a lead service line, locate the place in your home where the water line comes through the wall or floor in your home. Is the pipe a light gray in color? If so, while wearing gloves to protect your hands, carefully take a penknife and lightly scrape the outside of the pipe. If the pipe material is soft to the touch, you may have a lead service line. Your city's water department personnel or local health department can also help you determine if you have a lead service line.
Those individuals with lead service lines may want to have a lead test performed on their water to ensure that the lead in their drinking water is below 15 ppb (0.015 mg/L). If it exceeds this level, the homeowner can have the lead service line replaced, use a home water treatment product certified for lead reduction, or use bottled water for drinking and cooking. Keep in mind that faucets or lead-based solder (used to join copper tubing) that was manufactured before 1998 may contain a higher amount of lead than permitted in today's products, so these materials can also contribute lead into drinking water. As a result, some individuals who do not have lead service lines can still have unsafe levels of lead in their drinking water.
Plastic plumbing has been used for potable and non-potable water applications since the 1950s. Initially, there were many concerns about these products potentially leaching harmful chemicals into the water. To ensure that the public's health was protected, independent standards were quickly developed which established strict guidelines for these products.
Today, plastic plumbing products designed for potable water applications are usually designated with either "NSF-PW" or "NSF-61" to indicate that the product complies with the health effects requirements of NSF/ANSI Standard 61 for materials designed for contact with potable water. This standard also establishes similar guidelines for other plumbing materials, including copper tubing. If your pipe is not coded with one of these designations or if it is designated with an alternative code such "NSF-DWV," it is probably not meant for potable water applications and should not be used for such purposes.
There are many additional plumbing-related products used or installed in our homes in addition to the pipes themselves. These products can include cements and primers for PVC pipes, solder for joining copper plumbing, faucets, and hot water dispensers.
Because water can pick up impurities from the materials it touches, it is important for consumers to make sure that the products in their home that come into contact with potable water meet the health effects requirements of national standards, such as Standard 61.
If you are interested in obtaining a list of the plumbing products that have been evaluated and certified by our organization, you can use our online product database to locate this information.
For plastic plumbing products (both potable and non-potable applications), you can visit our online drinking water system components database. Those products that are specifically certified for potable water contact will contain a statement regarding compliance with NSF-61 in the product's footnote.
For other plumbing products (i.e. copper tubing, well casings, faucets, etc.), you can visit our online database at www.nsf.org/certified/pwscomponents. All products listed in this category have been tested by the staff at NSF to ensure that they meet the health effects requirements of Standard 61.
For further information on the EPA's Safe Drinking Water Act, you can visit the EPA's website at www.epa.gov or call their Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 1-800-426-4791.