California State Pipe Trades Council
"As California's consumer watchdog, we applaud the California State Pipe Trades Council for its record of pro-consumer advocacy." - Richard Holober, Executive Director, Consumer Federation of Cailfornia

CPVC Plastic Pipe: Victory Results in Significant Protection for the Environment, Public Health and Worker Safety

Why California State Pipe Trades Council Demanded a Pre-Approval Review of the Health and Safety and Environmental Risks of CPVC

As part of a coalition of consumer, environmental, public health and labor organizations, including the Consumer Federation of California, Sierra Club, Planning and Conservation League, Communities for a Better Environment, Center for Environmental Health, and California Professional Firefighters, the California State Pipe Trades Council fought to require meaningful review of the public and worker health and environmental risks associated with chlorinated polyvinyl chloride (CPVC) plastic plumbing pipe. As a result of this review, the state has imposed significant conditions on the installation and use of CPVC in order to protect California consumers, workers and the environment from the risks associated with CPVC.

CPVC Put California Families at Risk

  • Leaching studies commissioned by the State of California and conducted by UC Berkeley found that CPVC plumbing pipe systems may leach potentially toxic chemicals such as chloroform, tetrahydrofuran, methyl ethyl ketone, acetone and organotins into drinking water. These chemicals may cause cancer in humans or other serious health impacts. When leached from CPVC plumbing systems, the public may be exposed to these chemicals through consumption of drinking water, inhalation and skin exposure during bathing.
  • CPVC releases toxic smoke containing cancer-causing dioxins when burned in residential fires, plastic incinerators and landfill fires. Dioxin is considered one the most toxic chemicals known to science.

CPVC Harms our Environment

  • CPVC solvents and cements release volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions that pollute the air by causing ozone pollution. Ozone pollution is a principal component of smog and is a major source of respiratory illness in California. A study by the California Department of Housing and Community Development found that the statewide approval of CPVC would result in significant and unavoidable air quality impacts.
  • CPVC pipe is generally not considered a recyclable plastic and is considered a "contaminant" in the waste stream.
  • Reports link the manufacture of CPVC to exposure of workers and communities to dioxins, PCBs and vinyl chloride.

CPVC Endangers California's Plumbers

  • A National Toxicology Program study concluded the glue used to install CPVC contains chemicals known to cause cancer in animals and considered potentially carcinogenic to humans.
  • A 1989 California Department of Health Service study concluded that the solvents and cements used during CPVC installation expose workers to harmful chemicals such as THF and MEK at levels exceeding established workplace standards.
  • Studies conducted in 2005 determined that where CPVC had been approved on a limited basis, enforcement and implementation of ventilation and glove-use requirements were virtually non-existent.

Industry Resists Funding Meaningful California Health and Safety Studies of CPVC

  • For almost twenty years, the plastics industry has vigorously resisted meaningful public environmental review of plastic plumbing pipe by the State of California.
  • The California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) released its first draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) on CPVC in 1989. The 1989 draft CPVC EIR was heavily criticized for failing to disclose and evaluate significant impacts. Preliminary investigations undertaken in response to this criticism identified significant potential impacts that required further study and information. Industry refused to fund the additional studies, however, and the 1989 CPVC EIR was abandoned and the proposal for statewide CPVC approval withdrawn.
  • In 1995, HCD attempted to approve CPVC without any environmental review at all. A coalition of groups, including the California State Pipe Trades Council, successfully challenged this approval in the 1997 case Cuffe v. California Building Standards Commission and California Department of Housing and Community Development (Sup. Ct. San Francisco County, 1997, No. 977657). The San Francisco Superior Court overturned the approval and held that any future state approval of CPVC must comply with the California Environmental Quality Act.
  • In 1998, a new CPVC EIR was rushed through the adoption process at the end of the Wilson administration. The 1998 EIR was again widely criticized for its cursory and biased treatment of the serious health and environmental issues associated with CPVC drinking water pipe. After a legal challenge was filed, the 1998 EIR was rescinded on the grounds that it was “incomplete.”

The California State Pipe Trades Council’s Victory in Securing Pre-Approval Review of CPVC has Produced Significant Protection for the Environment, Public Health and Worker Safety

  • In 2006, the State of California finally completed a full Environmental Impact Report (EIR) on the statewide approval of CPVC. The 2006 CPVC Final EIR confirmed the validity of many of the longstanding concerns raised by the State Pipe Trades and imposed significant restrictions on the installation of CPVC to address these concerns.
  • The new CPVC regulations impose an unprecedented set of measures to protect the environment and the health and safety of workers and consumers. As a direct result of our long participation in this process, the California Plumbing Code now requires: (1) a one-week flushing of new CPVC pipes to reduce toxic leachates; (2) certification of worker safety training; (3) worker safety protective measures such as ventilation and safety gloves; and (4) the use of one-step, low-VOC cement.
  • In addition, after early leaching studies revealed the presence of chloroform, CPVC manufacturers reformulated their products to eliminate the use of chloroform in the manufacturing process and eliminated the potential for drinking water consumers to be exposed to chloroform.
  • While the 2006 Final CPVC EIR failed to fully address all of our concerns regarding CPVC (such as our concerns over the release of dioxins during CPVC production and disposal), our long battle to secure pre-approval health and safety review of this product is a great victory for the health and safety of all Californians. The protective measures required by the state will substantially reduce air pollution impacts and worker exposure to toxic chemicals and will help to ensure safe drinking water in homes.