Navigating the Lead Free Regulatory Maze


On January 4, 2011, Senate Bill 3874 Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act became Public Law No. 111-380. Under this law, the Safe Drinking Water Act was amended to change the definition of ‘lead free’ to “not more than a weighted average of 0.25 percent lead when used with respect to the wetted surfaces of pipes, pipe fittings, plumbing fittings, and fixtures.” The new ‘lead free requirement’ is effective nation-wide January 4, 2014.




Over the years, the NSF Joint Committees have developed three different standards that deal with lead in drinking water system components; NSF/ANSI 61, Annex G; and NSF/ANSI 372.




According to NSF, NSF/ANSI 61 “establishes limits for the amount of lead that may migrate into drinking water from the water contact materials within a drinking water contact product”. Annex F is a subsection of NSF/ANSI 61 that defines the allowable contaminant level of lead. Currently, Annex F requires a contaminant level of lead less than or equal to 15 ppb. On July 1, 2012, that level will be reduced to 5 ppb.

Products that are certified to NSF/ANSI 61 have not been evaluated for weighted average lead content and do not meet the Safe Drinking Water Act requirements for 2014 or the 0.25% weighted average lead requirements for California, Vermont, and Maryland.


On January 1, 2010, California Assembly Bill 1953 (AB1953) went into effect. AB1953 requires that all pipe, plumbing fittings and fixtures conveying water for human consumption be “lead free”.  AB1953 defines “lead free” as a weighted average lead content of the wetted surface area of not more than 0.25%. The States of Vermont and Maryland have passed similar laws. Certification is mandatory in these markets and may be obtained from NSF or another ANSI accredited certification agency.

In response to these laws, NSF developed NSF/ANSI, Annex G as an optional evaluation method within NSF/ANSI 61 to limit the amount of lead that may be contained in products contacting drinking water. Beginning in 2014, Annex G will be mandatory under NSF/ANSI 61 in order to be compliant with the Safe Drinking Water Act.


The lead content evaluation developed under Annex G was later developed as NSF/ANSI 372. NSF/ANSI 372 is the stand-alone lead content certification that meets the Safe Drinking Water Act requirements for 2014 as well as the lead content laws in California, Vermont, and Maryland.


In our opinion, NSF/ANSI 372 is the preferred certification and we urge all of our partners to request this certification in lieu of other NSF Standards. NSF/ANSI 372 meets the requirements of the Safe Drinking Water Act for 2014 as well as the laws already in effect in California, Vermont, and Maryland. Additional states are expected to pass similar laws in the coming years.

NSF/ANSI 372 uses reliable, repeatable methods to determine the actual lead content in products that contact drinking water. Methods that may be used include XRF (X-Ray Fluorescence), OES (Optical Emission Spectroscopy) Arc/Spark, and SEM (Scanning Electron Microscopy)/EDS (Energy Dispersive Spectrometer).

In contrast, under NSF/ANSI 61 the actual lead content of the product is not tested. NSF/ANSI 61 uses a process where the sample products are filled with simulated water after a washing and conditioning period. The exposed water is then tested for leached levels of lead. In the latest update to the standard (June 15, 2011), the section on Annex F states that “at this lower level of extractions, it was identified that the 8 exposure protocol would need to be updated to account better for the normal variability in lead extraction rather than depending on the single-value approach used now.” At this time, no changes have been made to the Section 8 exposure protocol. Annex F also recommends that “product lines thought to be marginally acceptable, and those that leach levels of lead approaching the maximum allowable level, should be tested for more than the minimum number of products.” We believe both of these statements are indications of the unreliability of the leachate test. Because annual testing is required to maintain certification, it is reasonable to expect that identical products could pass one year and not the next due to the nature of the test.

Furthermore, NSF/ANSI 61’s practice of testing water at pH 5 and pH 10 stems from pH levels that existed in the range of U.S. water utilities in circa 1985. In 1991, the EPA established the Lead and Copper Rule (LCR) to control lead and copper in drinking water. The Lead and Copper Rule required utilities to monitor their delivered water with respect to limits of copper and lead. Most problems with copper occur around the pH 5 level and problems with lead occur around the pH 10 level. Consequently, most utilities chose to control their pH levels to be in compliance with the LCR. The last two surveys of U.S.A. Drinking Waters found ~6000 water utilities with pHs in the range of 7.1 to 8.4.

In part because NSF/ANSI 61-G requires both the leachate test and the lead content verification test, the cost to obtain and maintain this certification is significantly higher than the cost for NSF/ANSI 372. Those costs are ultimately passed on to the utilities through higher product prices.

We recommend that all utilities prepare for the new Safe Drinking Water Act in 2014 through the most scientific, fiscally responsible vehicle available. Please join us in supporting NSF/ANSI 372.

Should you have any questions or need additional information, please contact us.


Ron Koch                                                      Megan Toparlak

412-847-2097                                              817-842-8118