Researchers link brass plumbing, high lead levels

SACRAMENTO (CBS) — Researchers say brass products in plumbing systems can yield dangerous levels of lead into drinking water — even in brand new buildings using products with specifications required under California law.

The study, published in the November 2010 issue of the Journal of the American Water Works Association, is the result of collaborative research between the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Virginia Tech, and suggests problems with some brass plumbing products may often go undetected.

Lead, a heavy metal that can harm the nervous system and brain development, and is especially dangerous for pregnant women, infants and children, was first detected in water in new building in early 2007 on Chapel Hill, and Virginia Tech was asked to help address the issue.

Around mid-2008, an unusually severe problem arose again on Chapel Hill with two drinking fountains in a large new laboratory building, one of which had lead levels exceeding 300 parts per billion. After repeated attempts to flush the lead over several months were unsuccessful, the source of the problem was finally traced to the building’s piping system.

The researchers also determined that switching to plumbing devices that meet specifications required under California law, which is stricter than federal regulations, would not solve the problem.

Earlier this fall, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif,), chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, introduced a bill to lower the allowable amount of lead in brass plumbing devices from 8 percent to a weighted average of 0.25 percent.

“The bottom line is that there is no safe level of lead – a toxic heavy metal – in our drinking water,” Boxer said in a news release at the bill’s introduction.

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