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Specialty polymers enable plumbing manufacturers to meet the need for lead-free water contact systems components

Plumbing systems parts manufacturers are under pressure to meet the demands of evolving regulations, and market dynamics. Plus, many commercial plastics fail to meet the strict design and performance requirements for plumbing applications. It is critical that part suppliers adopt robust and versatile material solutions that meet lead-free and performance requirements to stay ahead of their competition. 

In the United States and Europe, metals, such as brass and copper, have traditionally been used in plumbing systems components—faucets, fixtures, pipes and water meters. As commercial and residential plumbing systems undergo renovations, and plumbing infrastructure in many locations possibly retrofitted or replaced, plumbing component manufacturers must comply with lead-free rules and regulations. These regulations help ensure the lead levels in drinking water components are as low as possible.  

Lead enters drinking water when plumbing fixtures, faucets, and pipes containing lead corrode, and it leaches into the water. Besides lead in pipes contaminating water, brass or chrome-plated brass faucets, and lead solder parts contribute to water contamination.     

We often hear about drinking water being contaminated with lead in cities and towns across the U.S. Lead contaminated water is not only specific to the U.S.—it is a major concern worldwide—lead in drinking water has been found in many European countries. Just Google “lead in drinking water” or “lead-free water” and you will see many current articles on this topic, and that this issue is not only regional, but global. 

Lead in drinking water creates a health issue for everyone. According to the U.S. EPA, infants and young children are particularly vulnerable to lead because the physical and behavioral effects of lead occur at lower exposure levels in children than in adults. Low levels of lead in the blood can result in behavior and learning problems, lower IQ, hyperactivity, slowed growth, hearing problems, and anemia.

Drinking water regulations reduce exposure to lead

The European Union (EU) Drinking Water Directive, published in 1998, which took effect in December 2003, sets minimum quality standards for water intended for human consumption. In March 2019, Parliament voted in favor of an update to these Drinking Water Directive regulations.

According to the European Parliament, in the article Drinking water in the EU: better quality and access, the updated EU Drinking Water Directive legislation aims to increase tap water quality by tightening the maximum limits for certain pollutants, such as lead, to be reduced by half. 

And just this March, a consortium of governments, manufacturers, and civil society partners at the United Nations (UN) 2023 Water Conference launched a global commitment to achieve lead-free drinking water. The members of the consortium presented “A Global Pledge to Protect Drinking Water from Lead,” which aims to build momentum around local and global initiatives to reduce lead exposure from drinking water and protect public health.

In the U.S., the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) reduced the maximum allowable lead content in all plumbing parts. According to the EPA, plumbing content that is considered "lead-free" is to be a weighted average of 0.25 percent calculated across the wetted surfaces of pipes, pipe fittings, plumbing fittings, and fixtures, and 0.2 percent for solder and flux.

You can produce a lead-free component by utilizing specialty polymers

As a manufacturer in the plumbing industry, you need to offer components made of an alternative material to metal in parts you produce. Specialty polymers for water contact applications can help you meet that need—EcoPaXX polyamide (PA4.10), ForTii polyphthalamide (PPA) and Xytron polyphenylenesulfide (PPS), are lead-free solutions to brass, copper, and other metals. For these products, drinking water contact certified grades are available with 30%, 40%, 50% and/or 60% glass fiber (GF) content.

Besides being lead-free, EcoPaXX Q-DWX10 (GF50%) in faucet components results in a lower risk of part failure and water leakage because of its outstanding performance. When designing with this material, it offers thinner wall thickness, dimensional stability, better hydrolysis resistance, and less variation in part assembly, thus, reducing scrap rates compared to other polyamide-based materials on the market.

Because EcoPaXX Q-DWX10 has a better processability than low Tg PPAs and PA66, cycle times are reduced due to the better flow behavior and low mold temperatures. The flow behavior and wide processing window means better over mold stability and bonding performance, and less internal stress, giving designers more freedom. Also, faucet mixing valves need to provide long-term durability and perform reliably when in contact with both warm (60°C) and hot water (90°C). EcoPaXX Q-DWX10 yields improved torque and bending strength in faucets applications, even after extended exposure to boiling water.

EcoPaXX Q-DWX10 absorbs 30 percent less water and offers superior chemical and hydrolysis resistance compared to other polyamide-based materials, which is especially important when in contact with chlorinated water. It passed more than 1 million lifetime cycles testing in varying water temperatures, and fully complies with all major drinking water certifications – see certifications below. Manufacturers can therefore supply a global plumbing market—in the U.S. and Europe, and possibly China.  

Drinking water certifications:

  • KTW-BWGL — A certification demonstrating that a product component in contact with drinking water has been tested and approved by German drinking water laboratories.
  • WRAS — The Water Regulations Advisory Scheme (WRAS) is a certification demonstrating that a product or material complies with the standards set out by water regulations promulgated in 1999 in the United Kingdom.
  • ACS – In France, any device or accessory in contact with drinking water for human consumption must be certified as ACS (Sanitary Conformity Certification)French regulations require the laboratory assessment of products and materials in contact with drinking water.
  • NSF61 — A certification showing product complies with health criteria set by NSF International, an accredited, independent third-party certification body that tests and certifies products to verify they meet public health and safety standards.

Besides offering a product portfolio that meets purity requirements for water contact applications, Envalior offers in-house expertise on applications that need to meet the necessary drinking water certifications.  

Envalior, formerly DSM Engineering Materials and Lanxess HPM, is a global leader in material solutions, developed to meet a wide variety of challenges the water, food and appliances industries. Envalior offers a robust portfolio of materials built to support next-generation technologies across a broad range of global industries. Our solutions are backed by extensive research, testing and collaboration with OEMs and tier suppliers, to deliver on all your safety, reliability and design flexibility needs.

View related data sheet
 

Learn more about water system components

Miran Salej

Application Development Engineer

Published on

26 July 2023

Tags

  • Building and construction
  • Food & Water contact
  • Standards & regulations
  • Boilers & Heaters
  • Faucets
  • Water meters
  • Xytron
  • Blog

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Miran Salej

Application Development Engineer

Miran Salej is application development engineer for Envalior’ Specialty Industries. Before working in the Engineering Materials business unit, he was a plant equipment engineer at Envalior Fibre Intermediates. Miran has a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering from Zuyd University of Applied Sciences, Heerlen, Netherlands.

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