"As California's consumer watchdog, we applaud the California State Pipe Trades Council for its record of pro-consumer advocacy." - Richard Holober, Executive Director, Consumer Federation of Cailfornia
PEX Plastic Pipe: Victory Results in Significant Protection for Homeowners, Building Occupants and Workers
Along with a coalition of consumer, environmental, public health and labor organizations, including Sierra Club California, the Planning and Conservation League, Center for Environmental Health, the Consumer Federation of California, and California Professional Firefighters, the California State Pipe Trades Council successfully fought to require meaningful review of the environmental, public health, and durability concerns associated with cross-linked polyethylene (PEX) plastic potable water pipe. As part of our long-standing advocacy for State review of health and safety risks from plastic plumbing pipe and other newly proposed building materials, we fought to ensure that these concerns were fully evaluated and mitigated before PEX was approved in the California Plumbing Code.
As a result of this advocacy, the state has adopted an unprecedented set of restrictions on the use of PEX. The new regulations provide measures to address: (1) the vulnerability of PEX pipe to permeation by outside contaminants such as gasoline or solvents; (2) the vulnerability of PEX to premature failure when exposed to sunlight; (3) the failure of PEX brass fittings due to dezincification and stress crack corrosion; (4) the potential for traditional PEX pipe to fail when installed in continuously recirculating hot water systems; and (5) the potential health impacts from the leaching of chemicals such as methyl tertiary-butyl ether (MTBE) from PEX pipe.
Potential Environmental, Health and Economic Risks Posed by PEX
Contamination of drinking water
Failure of PEX Pipe and PEX Fittings
Lack of Recyclability
Industry Resistance to Disclosure and Mitigation of Potential Health and Environmental Safety Risks
Despite evidence of potential failure, leaching and permeation problems, PEX manufacturers continued the long pattern of industry resistance to public disclosure and review of plastic plumbing products under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).
In 2002, the Plastic Pipe and Fittings Association (PPFA) filed an unsuccessful lawsuit arguing that review of PEX pipe under CEQA was unlawful. The California State Pipe Trades Council, along with the coalition of consumer, environmental and public health organizations, filed an amicus brief opposing this lawsuit. The Court of Appeal denied the PPFA claim and held that substantial evidence of potential drinking water contamination through chemical leaching and permeation, as well as evidence of mechanical performance problems and failures, required that PEX pipe undergo CEQA review prior to state approval. (Plastic Pipe and Fittings Association v. California Building Standards Commission (2004) 124 Cal.App.4th 1390.)
In 2006, The California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) attempted to approve PEX through the issuance of a 2006 Negative Declaration that mysteriously claimed that there was no evidence of health, safety and performance issues. In face of the submission of substantial evidence of potential impacts from the use of PEX, the 2006 Negative Declaration was quickly withdrawn and the California Building Standards Commission began work on an environmental impact report (EIR) to study the risks of PEX.
In May 2008, the Building Standards Commission released a Draft Environmental Impact Report (Draft EIR) on the potential risks of PEX pipe. The May 2008 Draft EIR corroborated many of the concerns that we had long raised regarding this product. The Draft EIR proposed a number of important measures in an attempt to mitigate these hazards, including a requirement that PEX meet California Safe Drinking Water Act standards for public health, taste and odor.
Just a few months later, however, after receiving protests from the PEX manufacturers and meeting with industry lobbyists, the Commission released a Revised Draft EIR that reversed many of the key findings of the original May 2008 report. Based on this reversal, the California Building Standards Commission adopted regulations approving PEX pipe. The California State Pipe Trades Council, along with the coalition of other environmental, consumer and public health groups, then filed a lawsuit challenging the Revised EIR and the adoption of regulations approving PEX.
On December 30, 2009, the Alameda County Superior Court entered judgment overturning the approval of PEX and requiring preparation of a new environmental impact report. The Court held that the Commission failed to evaluate cancer and other health risks from chemicals leaching from PEX, failed to evaluate drinking water taste and odor impacts from chemical leaching, and failed to evaluate the risk of premature PEX pipe failures in certain applications. The Court ordered the State to withdraw the regulations and redo the EIR. PPFA appealed the ruling. Click here to read the Court’s decision.
While the appeal was pending, the State prepared a new EIR to address the issues raised in the ruling, leading to a settlement agreement that provided for the imposition of new requirements and restrictions on the installation of PEX pipe in California buildings.
Settlement Imposes Unprecedented Restrictions on the Use of PEX Pipe in California Buildings
Pursuant to the 2010 settlement agreement, the State of California has approved the use of PEX subject to the following mitigation measures and restrictions:
These provisions provide unprecedented protection to California workers, residents, and homeowners. Nonetheless, concerns remain regarding taste and odor impacts from low-quality PEX products, the sufficiency of PEX performance standards that only require a 25 year adjusted lifetime, the inability to tell how long PEX has been exposed to sunlight prior to installation, and the lack of meaningful recyclability of this product.