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Faucets Pose Prolonged Lead Risk, Study Says : Health: Level of the toxic metal in drinking water can exceed legal limits for years, environmental group asserts. Manufacturers insist the problem is limited to the early life of fixtures.

September 09, 1993|FRANK CLIFFORD | TIMES ENVIRONMENTAL WRITER

An environmental group that is suing 14 manufacturers of household plumbing fixtures on Wednesday released the results of a study showing that faucets commonly leach hazardous levels of lead into tap water for years after being installed.

Previous tests by the same group, the Oakland-based Environmental Law Foundation, focused on lead levels from newly installed faucets. The group contended in its lawsuit that lead contamination from new faucets was 150 times higher than California health standards.

At a news conference Wednesday, James Wheaton, president of the foundation, said the most recent tests showed that even years after installation, most domestic faucets release lead into household drinking water well beyond the levels set by Proposition 65, the Safe Drinking Water and Toxics Enforcement Act. The tests involved water samples from 600 household faucets in California.

Wheaton said the testing found that 10% of the faucets still were leaching unacceptable levels of lead four to 10 years after installation.

Last December, the Environmental Law Foundation joined the state attorney general in a lawsuit seeking to halt the sale of new faucets containing lead. The suit also called for an information campaign by manufacturers to warn the public of the dangers of lead contamination. At high levels of exposure, the highly toxic metal can cause retardation in children as well as birth defects, stillbirths and cancer.

Wheaton said the latest findings, from tests conducted by the Environmental Quality Institute of the University of North Carolina, contradict industry claims that lead stops leaching from faucets within weeks or months after installation.

During the news conference, Wheaton also discussed ways for consumers to detect lead contamination from faucets and reduce the amount of contamination in drinking water.

He said inexpensive testing can be done by a number of private laboratories as well as by the Environmental Quality Institute in Asheville, N.C. Lead levels, he said, can be reduced by letting faucets run for 60 seconds before using the water for drinking.

Robert Wyatt, a lawyer who represents Price Pfister Inc., a major plumbing supply maker based in Pacoima and one of the firms being sued, was skeptical of the findings, saying they contradict "a wealth of data" indicating lead from faucets "is confined to the early life" of the fixtures.

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