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Lead-free future of building technology

Lead-free future of building technology
Lead-free future of building technology

The future belongs to lead-free materials in building technology: They are hygienically sound, safe to use, better for the environment and they comply with the European regulations today and in the years to come. FRÄNKISCHE plays a pioneering role here: For nearly ten years, the building technology specialist has been using lead-free brass for its alpex F50 PROFI installation systems, combined with lead-free components made of high-performance plastic PPSU (polyphenylsulfone) that was introduced back in 2001.

Lead-free drinking water installations on the basis of the regulations applicable throughout Europe and aimed to protect human health and the environment have been an issue in this sector for many years. Despite previous awareness-raising measures and successful material switch on the part of many manufacturers, the need for information still seems to be high, especially in view of noticeable tightening of limit values up to the potential ban on lead-containing brass materials in the coming years. Planners and installers therefore need to keep abreast of all the developments. This will allow them to remain state of the art both legally and technically.

Harmful lead in drinking water

It is particularly lead in drinking water that can cause lasting damage to the human health and the environment. Possible sources are lead pipes, but also lead-containing copper alloys, e.g., in pipe connections or fittings. To ensure better protection of the environment and human health, the EU Drinking Water Directive and the German Drinking Water Ordinance (TrinkwV) of 2001 adopted the guide value of the World Health Organization (WHO) that had been in existence since 1993. Following a transitional period that expired on 1 December 2013, the limit value for lead was significantly reduced from 25 to 10 micrograms per one litre of water. Since then, the demands regarding the quality of drinking water – both microbiological requirements and limit values for metals – have to be met at every tapping point.

Multilayer composite pipes hygienically safe

As a result, lead pipes had to be replaced completely. In contrast, the pipes made of materials free from heavy metals, e.g., certified plastics, are still considered hygienically safe. For lead-containing copper alloys in individual parts such as fittings, the German Environment Agency (UBA) has published an overview of metallic materials suitable in terms of drinking water hygiene that now forms the basis for action for manufacturers, planners and installers.

Legally secure material changeover

The clearly specified material regulations by the UBA offer manufacturers security regarding their production processes. FRÄNKISCHE has assumed a pioneering role here and since 2013 – along with the high-performance plastic PPSU – it has been using a lead-free brass material for its alpex F50 PROFI pipe connectors that will still meet all the requirements even in the coming years. Installers who use products and systems made of safe, certified materials and observe the generally accepted technical practices are on the legally safe side in terms of drinking water hygiene.

More stringent regulations for metallic materials

In January 2021, the EU made another adjustment to the European Drinking Water Directive: For instance, it halved the permissible lead content from 10 to 5 micrograms per litre. The EU members had time until early 2023 to implement the regulations of the Drinking Water Directive in their national legislation. To make sure all involved parties in Germany are able to meet the new, lower lead values at the tapping points of drinking water installations in due time, the Drinking Water Ordinance will be subsequently adjusted.

All those using metallic materials for products in contact with drinking water will have to use the materials that comply with the European regulations, including the Positive list of metallic materials, in the future. Only these materials will be permitted for the construction and maintenance of drinking water installations. Until the new European system becomes valid, the guidelines and evaluation criteria of the German Environment Agency will remain decisive.

The consequences for copper alloys

Some copper alloys, whose lead content in the evaluation criteria for metallic materials of the German Environment Agency is higher than it will be allowed in the future, will not reliably comply with the new parameter value of the Drinking Water Directive and the Drinking Water Ordinance which is still subject to adjustment: The lower limit values for lead will highly likely restrict or even prevent the use of some copper alloys which are currently still permitted. It will probably no longer be possible to use, for instance, the copper-tin-lead alloy (CC499K) for new construction and maintenance of drinking water installations in the near future.

As to the lead content of materials for drinking water installations, further regulations need to be additionally observed, such as the EU-wide chemicals regulation REACH Regulation (EC) No. 1907/2006. Each of the currently applicable regulations is valid without prejudice to the other provisions, possibly even in the same application range, which can also result in a ban on certain materials in foreseeable future.

To ensure better protection of health and environment, the framework conditions for drinking water installations have significantly changed within just a few years. The manufacturers of installation systems, who strive for the leading position in the long run, must deal with the question as to how they can ensure lead-free design of their products and systems.

Lead-free: alpex F50 PROFI and alpex-duo XS installation systems

Plastic is FRÄNKISCHE’s core competence where the family-owned enterprise has gathered extensive expertise over decades. In order to prevent potential adverse effects within complex processes and supply chains, FRÄNKISCHE has demonstrated far-sightedness for years and opted for such materials as lead-free CW724R or the space-proven high-performance plastic PPSU: Today, all parts of alpex F50 PROFI and alpex-duo XS installation systems that are in contact with water are completely free of lead. In addition to this, the family-owned enterprise has been gradually replacing brass-containing components with corrosion-resistant, hygienically safe and eco-friendly PPSU fittings. The components with future-proof design will give planners and installers both legal security and the greatest possible flexibility in their daily work. The building technology specialist will follow this path and increase the share of PPSU components step by step – in view of the ever-growing prices of raw materials and more stringent international regulations, it is a sustainable solution for a durable and cost-efficient protection of our drinking water.