Lead-Pipe Rip-Off

California recently lifted its silly and expensive state ban on residential use of vinyl plumbing pipes. New York City should follow suit.

In 2004, then-Governor George Pataki vetoed a bill that would have extended a similar ban, liberating homeowners in New York State from this ridiculous policy.

Well, except in New York City—whose building code still restricts plastic piping. Yes, new code revisions will soon permit the piping, which costs about a third of the alternatives, in buildings of five stories or less. But everyone else must pay much higher prices for bathroom and kitchen remodels/construction—as well as more costly routine plumbing repairs.

Plastic pipe is used widely in the rest of America and around the world. Why not New York?

The plumbers union is behind the city’s ban—it creates more work for its members. But the pretext is a claim that plastic is dangerous.

Some environmental activists back up that fear—but out of ideology, not science. If the experience of the rest of the country isn’t sufficient proof, California’s Housing Department did a study showing the benefits of the plastic piping outweigh the risks.

For one thing, it doesn’t corrode. And corrosion of lead and copper pipes can lead to tiny leaks that let bacteria and viruses enter water supplies. More, lead can leach from lead pipes and from lead fixtures or solder.

Even when this doesn’t create a major health risk, it can lead to violations of federal drinking-water standards. That happened to Washington, D.C. in 2004—scaring residents and costing the city a bundle.

Plastic piping is also lightweight—making handling and transport more affordable, safer and more energy efficient.

It’s also easier for homeowners to install—it requires glue, rather than soldering. This is plainly the union’s true gripe—you might not have to hire a plumber!

Yes, some activists say the glue is dangerous. But how is soldering—which means working with propane, open flame and hot metal—safer? The California study found that the risks associated with the adhesives were “less than significant” for workers who are exposed to the fumes on a regular basis.

Environmental activists also say that plastic increases fire risks. Yet an analysis of the substance in the trade publication PM Engineer notes: “Based on all the testing data, as well as more than 45 years of performance in a wide array of demanding applications, it should be concluded that CPVC [plastic] piping can be used without any additional fire-risk concerns.”

It’s time for New York to catch up with the rest of the country and let people choose their own plumbing pipes. Housing costs are already too high in the city—why make them higher, just to pander to special interests?