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Indicators of product safety, quality & performance
Anyone who has purchased a plumbing product has likely noticed the variety of markings printed on the packaging and/or directly stamped onto the product. One may even wonder what the markings stand for and why some products have more labels than others.
To sell products in most markets, plumbing product manufacturers must meet several standards, codes and specifications established by independent, third-party organizations and recognized by regulatory agencies to ensure that these products meet high measures of safety, quality and performance. This is particularly relevant for products that come into contact with drinking water, like faucets, pipe fittings and pipes.
Third-party organizations each have distinct labels that plumbing manufacturers add to their products to indicate the product has been properly reviewed and tested to comply with national or international standards and regulations, including lead-free standards. PMI provides a list of all the main plumbing product markings with general explanations of the standards and requirements each represent.
There are several independent certifiers for the plumbing industry, including the following PMI members: CSA Group, International Code Council – Evaluation Services (ICC-ES), International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO), and NSF International. For a listing of industry certifiers, please visit this PMI’s “Helpful Links” website page under “Certifiers.”
To help inform consumers of which plumbing products are considered lead-free, the major plumbing codes require manufacturers to obtain third-party certification and to label their products.
Lead-free markings have evolved with the advancement of the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), which was enacted in 1974 to protect the quality of drinking water in the U.S. The SDWA authorized the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to create minimum standards to protect the nation’s tap water. In 1986, new amendments were signed into legislation banning the use of lead solders, flux and pipes in public water systems, and in 1996, amendments were added making it illegal for anyone to sell items that are not lead-free (according to the act’s definition).
In 2011, the SDWA was amended again to support the EPA’s efforts to further reduce lead exposure in drinking water. In addition, alternative materials with lower lead levels were becoming more available for plumbing manufacturers.
Effective January 4, 2014, the 2011 amendments to Section 1417 of the SDWA, or what is known as the Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act (RLDWA), became the new national mandate. The amendments created a new definition for lead-free, requiring manufacturers to reduce the lead content of the wetted surfaces in every pipe, pipe fitting, plumbing fixture and fitting used to convey potable water for human consumption from 8% to no more than a weighted average of 0.25%.
While trace amounts of lead may still be found in some plumbing materials to prevent pinhole leaks and allow malleability, these lead-free products must pass rigorous NSF/ANSI 61 testing and certification to assure they include safe lead content levels. NSF 61 is a standard that sets criteria for the health effects of many water system components, such as faucets and drinking fountains, and was developed by NSF International, an independent, accredited organization that develops standards and tests and certifies products and systems to help protect the world’s food, water, consumer products and environment.
For manufacturers, the new law established a legal method for calculating lead content and eliminated the previous requirement that lead-free products comply with Section 9 of NSF 61. Several exemptions are listed in Section 1417 of the SDWA that are not required to meet the new definition of lead free, including:
Consumers should note that while the RLDWA does not require third-party certification, manufacturers must follow the major plumbing codes, which do require third-party certification and lead-free product labeling. Because there is no single compliance mark used, lead-free markings vary and depend on which of the eight American National Standards Institute (ANSI) accredited third-party certifiers a manufacturer employs. For a full listing of the certification bodies and their specific lead-free certification marks, see page 2 of the EPA’s document “How to Identify Lead Free Certification Marks for Drinking Water System & Plumbing Products” on its website.
In addition, PMI’s website offers more information about Lead in Plumbing.
Showerheads, faucets, toilets, urinals and commercial pre-rinse spray valves marked with the WaterSense label have been independently certified and tested to meet EPA performance standards and use at least 20% less water than federal requirements. The WaterSense program, a public-private partnership to promote water efficiency, has helped consumers save more than 1.1 trillion gallons of water since 2006, according to the EPA. To learn more about the program and PMI’s involvement, visit PMI’s “WaterSense” website page.
The state of California takes labels and markings a step further with California Proposition 65, which is part of California’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986. The proposition is designed to help inform consumers about exposure to chemicals linked to cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm. It requires all businesses selling products in the state, including plumbing manufacturers, to post a “clear and reasonable” warning on any products, properties or sites that may expose Californians to one of the 950 chemicals included on the Proposition 65 list.
Consumers should understand that even if a plumbing product displays a warning label with a chemical on the Proposition 65 list, it does not demonstrate that the product is unsafe. The list contains many chemicals, like lead, that are already regulated by the EPA and Food and Drug Administration. In addition, consumers can contact manufacturers directly to ask for specific information about how their products meet all industry safety standards.
The law requires businesses to provide a warning for listed chemicals unless exposure is low enough that it does not pose a significant risk of cancer or is considerably below levels observed to cause birth defects or other reproductive harm.
To help companies determine if exposure to a chemical is low enough to not pose a significant danger, the state’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA), which administers the program, has established a list of safe harbor levels on its website.
For more information on Proposition 65, including the list of chemicals, visit the Proposition 65 Warnings website. PMI also covered the proposition and its new warning language in a May 2018 Ripple Effect article.
PMI’s Product Markings web page
PMI’s position statement on Marking for Plumbing Products
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s “Identifying Lead Free Certification Marks” online brochure
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