What is “Lead-Free”?

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Environmental Testing

What does “100% Lead Free” really mean?

What it lead-free? The EPA’s lead rule sets an action level of 15 parts per billion (ppb) and they estimate that more than 40 million U.S. residents use water “that can contain lead in excess of 15 ppb. If tests show that the level of lead drinking water is in the area of 15 ppb or higher, it is advisable – especially if there are young children in the home – to replace old pipes, to filter water, or to use bottled water.Little Girl Drinking Water

Generally speaking, this is caused by leaded pipes and other leaded accessories, but here in this post, we explore what is meant by the ever-changing definition of  ‘Lead-free’.

EPA Set Standards of  “Lead-Free”

In the 1980s the EPA to set standards limiting the concentration of lead in public water systems, and defines “lead-free” pipes as:

  • solders and flux containing not more than 0.2 percent lead;
  • pipes and pipe fittings containing not more than 8.0 percent lead
  • plumbing fittings and fixtures as defined in industry-developed voluntary standards (issued no later than August 6, 1997), or standards developed by EPA in lieu of voluntary standards.

California Standards of “Lead Free”

In California after January 1, 2010, the maximum allowable lead content in “lead-free” pipes, pipe or plumbing fittings, fixtures, solder, or flux intended to convey or dispense water for human consumption through drinking or cooking is as follows:Water Quality Test

  • 0.2 percent lead in solder and flux;
  • 0.25 percent lead in wetted surfaces of pipes, pipe fittings, plumbing fittings and fixtures, as determined by a weighted average.

Note that the “weighted average lead content” of a pipe and pipe fitting, plumbing fitting, and fixture is calculated by using the following formula: the percentage of the lead content within each component that comes into contact with water shall be multiplied by the percent of the total wetted surface of the entire pipe and pipe fitting, plumbing fitting, or fixture represented in each component containing lead.

This rule will become a Federal Law on January 1st, 2014.  The only other states that have stringent lead-free laws in place are Louisiana, Maryland and Vermont. Overall, the Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act legislation amended the Safe Drinking Water Act will reduce the allowable lead content in brass products from 8.0% to 0.25%. This is decrease of 30x times while the term ‘lead-free’ remains the same.

At HBS we always recommend including language for “100% lead-free”. This ensures that solder/flux don’t contain any lead.

2014 Federal Law Summary


EPA – Lead in Drinking Water


CDC – Lead & Water


NSF Low Lead Water Products Guide


Wikipedia – Lead Health Effects