Seven faucet producers settle lead lawsuit

SAN FRANCISCO – A proposedsettlement between seven faucet companies and the California attorney general has ended a 3-year-old lawsuit filed by two environmental groups concerned about lead leaching into drinking water. The manufacturers involved in the settlement are American Standard, Elkay Manufacturing Co., Masco Corp. (Delta and Peerless faucets), Moen, Universal-Rundle Corp., Eljer Manufacturing and U.S. Brass Corp. A hearing Sept. 15 to approve the settlement was postponed until late October.

“The terms of the settlement make mandatory for others what we have always done voluntarily,” said Raymond Kennedy, Masco’s executive vice president. “The settlement confirms what we have said all along: Delta and Peerless faucets have been and always will be safe to use. We feel totally exonerated in this matter.”

According to California Attorney General Dan Lungren, the settlement calls for the amount of lead leaching into drinking water in California to be reduced to less than 5 micrograms per liter in 65% of a given company’s faucets by Dec. 31, 1996; in 80% of faucets by Dec. 31, 1997; in 90% of faucets by Dec. 31, 1998; and in 95% of faucets by Dec. 31, 1999.

“I am pleased that we were able to settle this matter out of court, saving time and money, and in the process reaching a result that eventually goes beyond basic consumer warnings by removing the lead hazard from the products,” Lungren said. In December 1992, the Natural Resource Defense Council and the Environmental Law Foundation filed a lawsuit against 14 faucet producers charging them with violating California’s Proposition 65 by allowing unsafe levels of lead to leach into drinking water, and of failing to warn consumers of these exposures.

The attorney general also filed a lawsuit that resulted in a ruling May 6, 1994, that the faucet companies did not violate California’s law, which bans the discharge of lead and other toxins into sources of drinking water. Price Pfister, Kohler, Sterling and Chicago Faucets did not participate in the recent settlement and are still negotiating with the attorney general. Charlie Whipple, Chicago Faucets’ vice president/ sales and marketing, offered his own view of the settlement.

“It’s like when auto makers boast that their cars already meet the standards for 1999,” he told Contractor. “They haven’t changed anything about the cars, it’s just that the standard was raised a bit so some of their cars could still meet it.” Whipple added, however, that he has no argument with the standards set forth in the settlement. “We agree with the numbers,” he said. “We take issue with the test protocol. It is arbitrary and has no foundation in scientific fact, or in how customers use the product.”

Other companies disagree with the test protocol as well. The purpose of the testing is to determine if faucets meet the National Sanitation Foundation’s Standard 61, Section 9 protocol, which sets forth a level of 11 micrograms of lead per liter. “Nobody knows if we did (meet it) or not,” said Mark Weintrub, Eljer’s corporate counsel. “It’s a very subjective formula that’s not spelled out very well.”

Ralph Herrbach, Kohler vice president and general manager, added, “The main thing to remember here is that there was never any hazard from lead in the first place. Before the lawsuit, all the faucets met the NSF standard approved by the EPA. It’s just that California decided to make their own standard even tougher than the EPA’s.

“We should have one national standard. This settlement gives any state the ability to have any standard they want. We thought 11 micrograms was reasonable; 5 micrograms is ultra-safe.”

At least one company, however, believes the testing was fair.

“It took awhile to get the science straightened out, but I believe the testing presents a good, solid review of the numbers,” said Chuck Dowd Jr., group vice president of Masco Corp. Heavy investments in manfacturing processes have resulted in products that perform better than requirements spelled out in the settlement and in federal standards, said Bruce, Carbonari, Moen president and CEO.

“Moen faucets meet or perform better then the EPA-endorsed standard for lead under the NSF Standard 61, Section 9 protocol,” he said. Despite the settlement, Eljer believes Proposition 65 as not forced any changes in its manufacturing processes. “The law is erroneous,” Weinrub said. “Nothing has been done. We have not altered our products, although we constantly are working with new materials for our faucets.”

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