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Some Brass Fixtures May Cause Leaded Water

Testing Failure
 
Lead may be leaching out of older brass plumbing fixtures at a higher rate than what tests initially showed. Researchers believe some of the lead that snuck into tap water in Washington, D.C., and other metro areas may be traceable to household fixtures, valves and other components ... not just pipes and systems further from the home.
 
The study looked at the American National Standards Institute/National Sanitation Foundation 61 Section 8 standard, which are test-water formulas that industries have relied upon to ensure safe plumbing since 1988.
 
•As a result of problems identified with the test protocol, some products passing National Sanitation Foundation Section 8 may have a greater capacity to leach lead into water than we believed,• said Marc Edwards of Virginia Tech, the study"s author. The results were reported in the Journal of the American Waterworks Association.
 
Pure Lead Passed the Test
 
The researchers tested identical brass devices purchased from a local hardware store by subjecting the pieces to the Section 8 protocol and to modifications they made to the protocol.  They also applied the same tests to a simulated plumbing device made of solid lead.
 
The results: The Section 8 water samples reacted less with lead in the plumbing than designers of the standard had intended. The researchers found other problems that stemmed from calculations that underlie some of the test results. Normalization factors allow evaluators to estimate actual lead concentrations at the tap, but they are affected by device size. Because of normalization and the non-aggressive waters, the small, simulated device made of pure lead pipe passed the Section 8 leaching test.
 
The scientists began to scrutinize the Section 8 methods after learning that one of the test solutions contains high concentrations of orthophosphate to buffer the water's pH. Water utilities use orthophosphate actually to inhibit lead leaching. So, test solutions containing such leaching inhibitors could not react adequately with plumbing and would produce a flawed reading.
 
•It's analogous to an automobile crash test using a wall of pillows,• Edwards said. New legislation will prevent further problems, but brass fixtures in older homes are still vulnerable.

By Neil Whitehall
Get Plumbing Jobs, Contributing Editor

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