DSM Engineering Plastics

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Specialty polymers meet the need for lead-free water contact solutions

9 September 2019
  • Miran SalejApplication Development Engineer

Metals, such as brass and copper, have traditionally been used in plumbing systems—faucets, fixtures, pipes, and water meters—in both the United States and Europe. As commercial and residential plumbing systems undergo renovations (not to mention water infrastructure is in critical need of renovation in the U.S.), manufacturers in the building and construction industries, especially the plumbing industry, have lead-free rules and regulations to comply with to ensure the levels of lead and other pollutants in drinking water are as low as possible.

Often, we hear about drinking water being contaminated with lead in cities and towns across the U.S. Lead contaminated water is not only specific to the U.S.—it is a major concern worldwide—lead in drinking water has also been found in many European countries.

Lead enters drinking water when plumbing fixtures, faucets, and pipes containing lead corrode, and it leaches into the water. Besides lead in pipes contaminating water, brass or chrome-plated brass faucets, and lead solder parts contribute to water contamination.     

Lead in water creates a health issue for everyone, especially children. According to the U.S. EPA,  infants and young children are particularly vulnerable to lead because the physical and behavioral effects of lead occur at lower exposure levels in children than in adults. Low levels of lead in the blood can result in behavior and learning problems, lower IQ, hyperactivity, slowed growth, hearing problems, and anemia.

Strengthened regulations  

Because lead in drinking water is such a serious health issue in the U.S., the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) reduced the maximum allowable lead content in all plumbing parts. According to the EPA, plumbing content that is considered "lead-free" is to be a weighted average of 0.25 percent calculated across the wetted surfaces of pipes, pipe fittings, plumbing fittings, and fixtures, and 0.2 percent for solder and flux.

In Europe, The European Union (EU) Drinking Water Directive, published in 1998, which took effect in December 2003, sets minimum quality standards for water intended for human consumption. In March 2019, Parliament voted in favor of an update to these Drinking Water Directive regulations.


According to the European Parliament, in the article Drinking water in the EU: better quality and access, the updated EU Drinking Water Directive legislation aims to increase tap water quality by tightening the maximum limits for certain pollutants, such as lead, to be reduced by half. Also, Germany, France, Italy, and the UK have their own specific water requirements to follow.    

A lead-free alternative

Based on different water regulations in different countries, manufacturers in the building and construction industries need to offer an alternative material to metal in parts they produce. Specialty polymers for water contact applications can meet that need—manufacturers don’t have to look any further than EcoPaXX Q-DWX grades (30% and 50% glass fiber (GF) reinforced PA4.10), a lead-free solution to brass, copper, and other metals.

Besides being lead-free, EcoPaXX Q-DWX10 (GF50%) in faucet components results in a lower risk of part failure and water leakage because of its outstanding performance. When designing with this material, it offers thinner wall thickness, dimensional stability, better hydrolysis resistance, and less variation in part assembly, thus, reducing scrap rates compared to other polyamide-based materials on the market.

Because EcoPaXX Q-DWX10 has a better processability than low Tg PPAs and PA66, cycle times are reduced thanks to the better flow behavior and low mold temperatures. The flow behavior and wide processing window means better over mold stability and bonding performance, and less internal stress, giving designers more freedom. Also, faucet mixing valves need to provide long-term durability and perform reliably when in contact with both warm (60°C) and hot water (90°C). EcoPaXX Q-DWX10 yields improved torque and bending strength in faucets applications, even after extended exposure to boiling water.

EcoPaXX Q-DWX10 absorbs 30 percent less water and offers superior chemical and hydrolysis resistance compared to other polyamide-based materials, which is especially important when in contact with chlorinated water. It passed more than 1 million lifetime cycles testing in varying water temperatures, and fully complies with all major drinking water certifications (see certifications listed below). Manufacturers can therefore supply a global plumbing market—in the U.S. and Europe, and possibly China.  

Drinking water certifications:

  • KTW & W270 — A certification demonstrating that a product component in contact with drinking water has been tested and approved by German drinking water laboratories.
  • WRAS — The Water Regulations Advisory Scheme (WRAS) is a certification demonstrating that a product or material complies with the standards set out by water regulations promulgated in 1999 in the United Kingdom.
  • ACS – In France, any device or accessory in contact with drinking water for human consumption must be certified as ACS (Sanitary Conformity Certification). French regulations require the laboratory assessment of products and materials in contact with drinking water.
  • NSF61 — A certification showing product complies with health criteria set by NSF International, an accredited, independent third-party certification body that tests and certifies products to verify they meet public health and safety standards.

Besides offering a product portfolio that meets purity requirements for water contact applications, DSM offers in-house expertise on applications that need to meet the necessary drinking water certifications.  

To learn more about EcoPaXX Q-DWX, or to request test samples, contact us or visit plasticsfinder.com  for additional information, including technical data sheets.

EcoPaXX: A green polymer for faucet systems components

    

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