Industry fights back on misleading report on PVC pipe
Image courtesy of ASA
A report issued in April 2023 by Beyond Plastics, a project with the mission to “… end plastic pollution everywhere…,” falsely claims that the use of PVC and CPVC pipe in drinking water system pose a significant health and environmental hazard.
Fortunately, industry and those responsible for the setting of public health standards for our drinking water systems have spoken up to satisfactorily rebut the claims made in the report and provide assurance that PVC and CPVC piping systems used in drinking water systems meet strict public health and safety requirements. The following highlights the key points of rebuttal that you should know to feel confident in the products you provide to the market. At the end of this article, I provide links to several position statements made by industry trade associations and NSF International for further reading on the subject.
The PVC pipe industry has been committed to providing safe products to the market for more than 70 years. To confirm the industry commitment to public health and safety, the first product study was developed by NSF in the early 1950s addressing both potential health effects of the use of PVC and other plastic products in the distribution of drinking water.
The NSF standard, NSF/ANSI 14 Plastics Piping System Components and Related Materials, first published in 1965, establishes the minimum physical, performance and health effect requirements for plastics piping system components and related materials.
The industry fully supported a voluntary third-party certification program to provide assurances that their products complied with NSF/ANSI 14. The first official listing of PVC piping products to NSF/ANSI 14 for both health-related effects and product performance occurred in 1965. The testing for residual vinyl chloride monomer (RVCM), the major contaminant of concern pointed out in the Beyond Plastics Report, was added to NSF/ANSI 14 in 1976, requiring all PVC products to go through extraction testing to determine if RVCM leached into the drinking water, in addition to many other potential contaminants of health concern.
In response to a competitive request for proposals from the US Environmental Protection Agency, a consortium led by NSF agreed to develop voluntary third-party consensus standards and a certification program for all direct and indirect drinking water additives.
The consortium included the American Water Works Association Research Foundation, the Association of State Drinking Water Administrators, the Conference of State Health and Environmental Managers and the American Water Works Association. I have taken the time to list the members of the coalition to show the broad representation of organizations directly responsible for the delivery of drinking water in the U.S. involved in this EPA-sponsored project. These organizations remain active in providing an oversight role in the program.[i]
Two standards for products were developed. NSF/ANSI/CAN 60 Drinking Water Treatment Chemicals – Health Effects and NSF/ANSI/CAN 61 Drinking Water System Components – Health Effects. These standards and subsequent product certification against them have replaced the US EPA Advisory Program for drinking water system chemicals and components.
The US EPA terminated its advisory role in April 1990. NSF/ANSI/CAN 61 has subsequently been incorporated into product standards covering products, including PVC piping systems used in drinking water systems as a minimum requirement for the public health safety of the materials used in the products.
In addition, NSF/ANSI/CAN 61 is referenced in all three of the major model plumbing codes published in the U.S. and used by state and local regulatory authorities through regulation. These product standards include standards developed by the American Water Works Association for PVC water main piping, ASTM standards for PVC pipe and fittings as well as NSF/ANSI 14. The model plumbing codes are published by the International Code Council and the International Association of Plumbing & Mechanical Officials.
What is critical to know concerning NSF/ANSI/CAN 61 in relation to the report issued by Beyond Plastics is that the standard requires a complete and in-depth toxicological review of all potential contaminants of health concern that might leach from the product and into the drinking water. The standard goes well beyond testing for common contaminants of concern such as lead, heavy metals and RVCM, and, in fact, evaluates the toxicological risks of contaminants not yet incorporated into federal regulation.
PVC products tested and certified to NSF/ANSI/CAN 61 have been demonstrated to not leach any contaminant at levels of public health concern.
So how can you be assured the products you are distributing in the marketplace are safe to be used in drinking water applications, including PVC piping systems? You should verify the products you are distributing are, in fact, tested and certified by an accredited third-party certifier to both the appropriate national consensus product standard and to NSF/ANSI/CAN 61. Certified products will include the official mark of the certification body along with the product standard used in the certification process.
I could go on and explain the U.S. Conformity Assessment System used in the U.S. but my goal in this article is to provide you the assurance that the PVC/CPVC piping products you distribute, when properly certified, have been shown to meet minimum public health and safety requirements. I plan to go into much more detail in describing the U.S. Conformity Assessment System in a future article.
For your further reading and understanding of the facts related to PVC piping systems on the impact of public health and the environment I encourage you to click on the following links:
As always, please do not hesitate to contact me at any time if you have any questions or concerns related to codes and standards and how they impact you and your businesses. You can reach me at [email protected].