Lead in Faucets Ruled Legal

SF Chronicle June 14, 1995 pg. A20

A state appeals court has ruled that California's ban on toxic chemicals in drinking water does not apply to lead-leaching faucets, which state authorities say can endanger public health.

The decision made public yesterday was a setback for the office of state Attorney General Dan Lungren, which filed suit in 1992, charging the nation's leading faucet manufacturers with violating Proposition 65, the 1986 anti-toxics law, by knowingly exposing consumers to dangerous levels of lead.

Proposition 65, also known as the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act, bars the release of chemicals known to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity into "any source of drinking water."

But by a 2 to l vote, a state Court of Appeal in San Francisco ruled that the faucet makers are not subject to the law because household taps are not a water "source" as defined by the law.

There may be "sound scientific reasons" to impose a ban on brass fixtures that leach lead, the court conceded, but Proposition 65 does not cover these products.

In a dissenting opinion, Justice J. Anthony Kline said that the majority's interpretation of Proposition 65 defeats the purpose of the law. Lead is listed by the state as a substance that causes cancer. Kline noted that even extremely low levels of lead in drinking water can pose serious hazards to consumers, particularly to children and pregnant women.

Deputy Attorney General Ed Weil, who specializes in the enforcement of Proposition 65, said the state has not decided whether to take the case to the California Supreme Court. "Our view is your tap water is your source of water," Weil said. Under the court's decision, "if you put lead in the Sacramento River 400 miles from here, it's a violation," he said. "But if you put it two inches from where somebody drinks, it's not a violation." * * *


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