NEW YORK Suppliers of
brass alloys and pipe are changing their product lines before
new federal lead regulations go into effect, with industry
players anticipating that lead will soon become obsolete,
market sources have told AMM.
All new potable water fittings
must contain less than 0.25 percent lead by 2014, when the
Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act comes into force.
Suppliers have begun exploring a range of lead-free products in
order to comply with the federal law.
"People are futzing around with
everything right now, trying to come up with alternatives," Tim
Strelitz, president of Los Angeles-based California Metal-X
Inc., told AMM.
A number of different alloys
have hit the market as potential replacements for
lead-containing materials, including Eco Brass, a lead-free
copper-silicon-zinc alloy. Producers also are selling various
copper-zinc-bismuth alloys to both municipalities and private
companies. Even distributors who sell to a wide range of
end-markets are switching their product lines over to
incorporate more environmentally friendly alloys.
"We have seen a pickup in the
lead-free product lineI would say 10 or 15 percent," a
bronze continuous casting plants sales manager told
Cleveland-based bronze and brass
alloys producer Federal Metal Co. went from manufacturing about
60 to 70 percent of its products with lead to making less than
40 percent of its products with lead once lead restrictions
began to fall into place, vice president Mike Buyarski told
Many producers and buyers who
anticipate further regulations want to stay ahead of the curve
and have already begun using products that dont contain
lead. Some aim to go "green," while others are simply preparing
to recycle more profitably without using lead.
"Where weve seen the
biggest increase is where companies want to go green,
periodnot as a result of federal law," said the casting
plants sales manager. "They are preparing for future laws
Lead-free alloys are more
expensive, however, and cost concerns might push some end-users
to explore other materials.
"Its more cost for our
customers," Buyarski said. "Lead-free alloys cost more,
thats for sure. Some of your water meter guys have
already experimented with plastic."
Municipal water engineers also
are looking at copper-bismuth pipe, while high costs have led
retailers to turn largely to cheaper, high-zinc/low-copper
alloys, industry sources said. For example, municipal piping
systems have not embraced Eco Brass largely on concerns that
its relatively high zinc content could make it vulnerable to
dezincification, but it is cheaper than bismuth alloys and has
twice the tensile strength, Strelitz said.
Recyclers also could start
feeling the squeeze from the new regulations. Recycled products
often contain lead, which would make them useless to pipe
makers, forcing them to buy nonrecycled materials.
"The no-leaded products tend to
screw up the scrap markets," the casting plants sales
manager said. "Lead is the most common product that
contaminates the metal. So its very, very expensive, and
its almost impossible not to have a scrap supply
thats not contaminated with lead. It takes such a tiny
bit of lead to make you not comply with the lead rule."
Pipe producers are mostly
sanguine about the transition, however, citing warranted
environmental concerns about leaded products and the positive
aspects of lead-free alloys, including their production
"We dont like leaded
alloy," said Strelitz, whose company sells Eco Brass. "We think
they were wonderful; they had their day and we built a country
on them. But were in the 21st Century, and we have the
ability to replace them with much more environmentally friendly
alloys. Today were experiencing serendipity, and
thats because were able to create an alloy
thats more efficient than previous alloys."