Disputed Study Backs Ending Limits on Plastic Pipes

DISPUTE: A state review finds no environmental harm in allowing its use in residential plumbing.


Sacramento Bureau

SACRAMENTO – An environmental study by California’s housing agency
concludes that there would be no harm to scrapping a six-year-old rule
that has all but prohibited plastic water pipe in residential plumbing.

The plastic pipe known as CPVC, which stands for chlorinated polyvinyl
chloride, has been at the center of a lengthy, politically charged
dispute pitting pipe manufacturers and the building industry against
the state plumbers union and environmental groups.

Proponents call the plastic pipe a safe, corrosion-free alternative to
copper pipe, which corrodes in some parts of the Inland area because of
acidic water and soil. California is the only state that bans the
unrestricted use of pipe made of chlorinated polyvinyl chloride.

Opponents contend that the manufacture, installation, and use of
plastic pipe poses health risks, such as chemicals leaching into water.
No illnesses have been attributed to the pipe.
A public comment period on the draft environmental-impact report ends
Sept. 14. A final review is scheduled to be ready in time for the state
Building Standards Commission’s January meeting, when officials will be
putting the final touches on a new plumbing code.
A 2000 rule prohibits the plastic pipe except in communities where
building officials declare that water and soil acidity could damage
copper piping. Highland, in San Bernardino County, is one of the few
communities to have made the declaration.

Released last week after several months of work, the draft
environmental review by the state Department of Housing and Community
Development finds that ending the rule would pose insignificant impacts
to water and air quality, worker safety, and solid waste.
"It looks really good. After 20 years, enough is enough," said Harry
Moos, a piping-systems consultant for Noveon, a plastic-pipe
Pipe critics said the state agency seems to have ignored their concerns in producing the report.

"Here we are again put in a position of having to fight to have a good
honest discussion of the issues," said Tim Frank, a senior policy
adviser for the Sierra Club, which has sided with the California State
Pipe Trades Council on the issue.
During the 2003 recall campaign, Arnold Schwarzenegger called for allowing statewide use of CPVC.

His administration tried to end the restrictions in early 2005, but
instead ordered the environmental-impact review after complaints from
unions, lawmakers and others.
Reach Jim Miller at 916-445-9973 or jmiller@PE.com

Consumer Federation of California statement on the issue:

"The way this state agency is pushing potentially hazardous plastics
when we all know the harm they can cause is among the clearest and most
troubling indications of the building industry’s undue influence on
HCD," said Zack Kaldveer, communications specialist at the Consumers
Federation of California.

Kaldveer noted that both Lynne Jacobs and
Lucetta Dunn, the current and previous directors of HCD, were industry
insiders and leaders of the Building Industry Association when
Schwarzenegger appointed them to head the agency.