State panel clears way for use of plastic pipe
by JIM MILLER, Press Enterprise
SACRAMENTO – A state panel voted Monday to allow unrestricted use of plastic
water pipes in houses, a potential end to a quarter-century fight over
requirements that builders use copper pipe, which acidic Inland soil and water
"We’ve never been this close before.
The state has taken a step forward
to giving people the option of copper or plastic," said Jeff Cash of Noveon, a
company that produces the resin used in plastic pipe made from chlorinated
polyvinyl chloride, or CPVC.
Acidic soil and water have been blamed for eating away traditional copper
water piping in hundreds of Inland homes, forcing expensive repairs.
and others from the region have long tried to ease state rules on the use of
plastic pipe as a corrosion-free alternative. Plastic pipe costs several
thousand dollars less in a typical home than copper piping.
Plastic pipe opponents include environmental groups and state unions
representing plumbers and firefighters.
They contend that plastic pipes could endanger workers’ and consumers’
health. Pipe chemicals and glue could leach into drinking water, opponents say,
and the pipes give off toxins when burned. They likened pipe made from CPVC to
asbestos and lead paint, once-common building materials later found to be
The unanimous decision by the California Building Standards Commission
clears the way for unfettered residential use of plastic pipe in the plumbing
code that takes effect next January. All other 49 states allow the pipe.
Plasitc pipe costs several thousand dollars less to install in a typical
home than copper pipes. Plumbers unions favor copper. Currently, any community
wanting to allow plastic pipe must first declare that it has acidic water and
soil — a requirement that building officials and others complained was too
Highland, in San Bernardino County, is among only a handful of California
communities that allow the plastic pipe because of corrosive soil and water.
Building groups and manufacturers contend that critics’ opposition
reflects a desire to protect union plumbing jobs, something opponents deny. Many
homes are plumbed with nonunion labor.
Tom Enslow, the attorney for the anti-plastic pipe Safe Building
Materials Coalition, said he wasn’t surprised by the panel’s vote. He claimed
that the Schwarzenegger administration and the plastics and building industries
put intense pressure on commissioners.
The 11-member panel oversees the state’s plumbing, fire and other
"It’s been a frustrating process. We really feel at this point that we’ve
laid out all the issues and the evidence," Enslow said.
Last week, the state housing department certified a 419-page
environmental review of CPVC pipe that largely dismisses opponents’ pipe
It acknowledges, though, that the glue used with the pipe will
increase air pollution in areas that already fail to meet federal standards.
Opponents have 30 days to challenge Monday’s decision.
Air pollution could be the basis for a lawsuit, Enslow said. Pipe
"If there is an area I would expect our opponents to focus on, I would
expect it to be that one area," Cash said.
The California debate began in the early 1980s when plastic pipe became
common in home construction nationwide.
There have been three environmental reviews since then. Each side of the
debate has spent millions of dollars lobbying California lawmakers and other
The battle also has had a distinct political component.
Former Republican governors George Deukmejian and Pete Wilson supported
industry’s push to allow the pipe in houses.
The Democrat-dominated Legislature blocked extending a 1996-97 exemption.
In 2000, former Democratic Gov. Gray Davis, an ally of the plumbers union,
helped push through the current rules.
Schwarzenegger tried to unilaterally lift the restrictions in 2005.
governor’s office backed down after complaints from lawmakers and pipe opponents
and ordered the latest environmental review.
It also seems as though Democrats in the Legislature are ready to move
beyond the contentious issue.
Monday, the state Senate unanimously confirmed Rosario Marin as secretary
of the state and consumer services agency.
Marin, who leads the building standards commission, is a strong supporter
of allowing CPVC pipe in houses.
COPPER VS. PLASTIC
The battle over copper pipe vs. plastic pipe has gone on for about 25
COPPER: The state plumbers and pipe fitters union says copper piping is
safer because it doesn’t leach chemicals into drinking water.
Manufacturers and home builders say plastic piping prevents corrosion
from acidic water and soils common in the Inland area.