The Southern African Plastic Pipe Manufacturers Association (SAPPMA) has announced that lead has been eliminated from all locally-manufactured plastic pipe products and that all plastic pipes manufactured by its members are guaranteed to be free of heavy metals.
Although lead does not leach from the plastic pipes and does not pose any danger to people once installed, SAPPMA felt compelled to create a safer environment for the manufacturers where lead poisoning does pose a risk for their workers.
"We embarked on this journey 2006, as a voluntary policy of heavy metal free stabilisers for the manufacture of PVC pipes. The reason for the initiative was based on health and environmental considerations and we are immensely proud of having reached our goal of eliminating all lead stabilisers from SAPPMA members' piping products five years ahead of the anticipated European Union targets," says Jan Venter, CEO of SAPPMA.
A long and costly process
Venter admits that the process of removing lead from PVC piping has been long and costly for SAPPMA members, but stresses that it was a vitally important step to ensure future sustainability. SAPPMA members agreed to begin the process of removing lead stabilisers from their products six years ago. At that time, the price of alternative stabilisers was considerably higher than lead, and all SAPPMA members incurred the additional costs at their own expense, without passing it on to the end-user.
Lead has been used as a PVC pipe stabiliser worldwide for more than 40 years and has excellent heat and UV resistance, which ensures a good cost-to-performance ratio. During the manufacturing process, the lead is chemically bonded into the PVC pipe and cannot leach from the pipe. What's more, all pipes containing lead undergo annual SANS 966 tests to ensure that the stabiliser does not leak. These tests, which are carried out by the SABS for various metals, have proven that lead is one of the metals least likely to leak - with a maximum expected leakage of 50Âµg/l, which is negligible. However, one of the commitments of the SAVA PSP is the responsible and sustainable use of additives, including stabilisers, plasticisers, pigments and Bisphenol A.
Manufacturers are health-conscious
SAPPMA members have replaced lead with calcium/zinc and organic-based stabilisers that are non-toxic to humans. "Calcium/zinc stabilisers have been used in PVC applications for more than 25 years and, in addition to being non-toxic, they are essential elements to the human body. Organic-based stabilisers are predominantly based on uracyl technology and are heavy metal and odour free, and approved for potable water and food contact applications," Venter explains.
According to SAPPMA, an estimated 80% of plastic pipe manufacturers in South Africa have eliminated lead stabilisers from their products, which has resulted in a rise in demand and consequent decrease in price, for alternative stabilisers. Although the cost of manufacturing pipes with calcium/zinc and other organic-based stabilisers is still somewhat higher than the lead alternative, local manufacturers are becoming more conscious of the health and safety of their workers, and are prepared to cut into their profit margins to reduce the inherent risk of toxic exposure.