At the demand of both eco-friendly customers and gavel-heavy
legislators, faucet and fitting fabricators have begun to offer
lead-free alternatives to traditional leaded products-a move
that has proved challenging but fruitful.
"Consumers are interested in it. Municipalities are
interested in it. They're more and more interested about what's
in their water," said Charlie McTargett, vice president of
product development at Delta Faucet Co., Indianapolis. "I think
you're going to find people adopt these products readily across
Jeff Baldwin, engineering manager at T&S Brass &
Bronze Works Inc., Travelers Rest, S.C., agreed. "Regardless of
the science, lead is a hot political button. No-lead, or
extremely low-lead, products are the PC (politically correct)
answer, no doubt about it."
Although new standards for lead-free fittings in California
and Vermont don't go into effect until January 2010,
fabricators are already starting to see an uptick in demand
from within those states and beyond, and they're quickly
adapting their product lines in an effort to stay ahead of the
Delta Faucet, for example, has been expanding its
trademarked Diamond Seal Technology line, a lead-free PEX-C
tubing that meets the legislated requirements. PEX refers to
cross-linked polyethylene. "We were working on Diamond Seal
Technology for the last seven years or so, and we knew at the
time there may be changes to our industry. Clearly, over the
years we've seen that coming on the horizon," McTargett said.
"When we got nearer to putting this in production, the
California thing passed into law and then it became a
The company also has been looking into no-lead and low-lead
materials and hopes to have a full metal line by the two
states' Jan. 1 deadline.
Fittings fabricator American Standard, Piscataway, N.J.,
also recognized the need to provide lead-free products in
anticipation of the Jan. 1 deadline-and federal legislation
that the company sees as likely to follow. "We're going across
the nation with the no-lead product. It's not feasible for us
to just segregate in California and Vermont," Dave Meisner,
leader of American Standard's faucet business, said. "Besides,
I suspect within the next two years or so the standard will be
Rather than developing a line of plastic fittings like
Delta, American Standard has begun casting its products out of
a brass-bismuth alloy that fits the lead-free requirements. "We
knew we didn't just want to start changing everything to
plastic," he said. "Plastic doesn't hold up to high-pressure
situations or the extreme freezing of pipes. We will continue
to provide brass waterways."
While some fabricators have adapted to the demand for
lead-free product by exploring plastics as others have remained
true to their metallic roots, both can attest to one thing
going lead free isn't without its challenges.
According to companies that have experimented with lead-free
alloys, removing lead from the material severely lowers the
product's machinability, creating a slew of problems in the
"Bismuth is a good substitution for lead, although it is a
harder material to work with; it makes the brass alloy harder
and, therefore, it's a little harder to cast, and it's a little
harder to machine and it's a little harder to buff and polish,"
Meisner said, noting that due to the hardness of the material
the company's tools also need sharpening more frequently.
McTargett also noted the difficulties of machining lead-free
brass rod. "It takes a little longer to machine those, which
translates to a slight cost increase on the components," he
To Baldwin, cost is one of the biggest deterrents to the
voluntary adoption of lead-free products, even in California
and Vermont. "The demand is still fairly low because consumers
do not seem willing to endure the extra costs until the January
2010 implementation takes full effect," he said.