WIDENING

Health and environment. How to protect both by choosing a "GENUINOX" tap(1)

 

The constantly growing environmental awareness, that all over the world encourages mankind to reconsider their relationship with the environment and nature, has in time prompted the health and environment authorities to ban (or limit) the use of substances considered highly toxic for human beings such as lead, nickel and chrome, employed in the production or machining of numerous items.
Unfortunately into traditional brass taps such substances are still present and are leaked (lead and nickel) into the water, which is then ingested by the user, or contribute (chrome) to alter the already precarious ecological equilibrium of our environment.
Some countries, more advanced than others in the protection of the consumer's health, are already banning the use of these substances also from the production of taps for domestic use, but their number is yet too small and their intervention still too late in relation to the potential risks to which we are exposed.
So what can we do to avoid the 'poisoning' of ourselves and of our loved ones by helping to safeguard health and environment?
Easy: by simply buying a stainless steel tap instead of an obsolete brass one!
Let's analyze the issues connected to the three toxic heavy metals mentioned above: Lead, Nickel and Chrome.

 

LEAD
Would you cook in a brass pot? Certainly not!
Would you store your food and drinks in brass containers? Certainly not!
Whether these are choices dictated by knowledge or by simple habit they are in any case excellent choices!
Let's analyze the reasons more in details.
The term "Brass" identifies a family of copper and zinc alloys that could present quite different characteristics based on their contents of zinc. For the production of taps typically are used the so called "ternary" brasses (consisting of copper, zinc and a third element in fact, the lead) denominated "lead brasses", where the percentage of the three elements are: Cu 57-59% (Copper); Zn 38-40% (Zinc); Pb 1-3% (Lead).
This is how the "Italian Institute of Copper" defines the "lead brass": "...characterized by an excellent hot workability, low cost and good corrosion resistance. The presence of lead also ensures excellent machinability. Used for molding and machining with machine tools, in particular for the production of plumbing fittings and accessories for bathrooms, valves, fasteners..."
The material with which are produced most of the taps on the market thus contains a certain percentage of lead .
And lead, alas!, is an highly toxic heavy metal!
The danger deriving from exposure to lead is now well known! This metal was used for many years to manufacture items to be used in the house and for everyday life, and it is gradually being banned because of its harmfulness (e.g. elimination from gasoline, paints and electronic devices.)
Children are the most heavily exposed to the lead poisoning, which will impair their psycho-physical development; the lead in fact damages the brain cells (W.H.O. source).
Various legislative provisions refer to the protection of human health from exposure to lead. One of these, in Italy, is the law n. 277/91, which deals specifically with the protection of workers from exposure to chemical, physical and biological agents; one of the activities specifically contemplated by it is the "manufacturing of items based on lead and of alloys containing lead."
Let's now turn back to the ancient Roman Empire: some neuroscientists have ascertained how lead was one of the determining factor in its fall, as it not only caused a decreased fertility in the population, but also contributed to increasing the risk of encephalopathy in the leading class, the opulent one, more exposed to such risks than the others paradoxically because of the luxury they practised. The taking of lead was due to the great number of objects made with lead and aluminium that they used such as dishes, glasses and pots, and earthenware painted with lead coloured enamel (the more luxurious they were the more lead they contained), but mostly to the containers made of pure hammered lead, where they kept the wines, which in time assumed the characteristic taste ("maderized") that they loved so much. Apparently the patrician families were in fact decimated by lead intoxication (saturnism)!
Now back to our time. It must be pointed out how worldwide the current legislation on protection of public health is steadily being updated, becoming stricter and stricter on the presence in drinking water of polluting or toxic substances. The World Health Organization (WHO) sets the maximum "suggested" level of lead in drinking water at 10 micrograms per litre, a limit that from 2013 onwards will become obligatory. Today the limit is 25 micrograms/litre even though it is a theoretical limit that few are able to verify and comply in Europe . In fact during its first week of life a brass tap "new" leak from 80 to 100 micrograms/litre of lead, a concentration considered toxic for the human body. Even after several years of "washings" a brass tap will in any case leak a considerable quantity of lead.
Other interesting information on the subject can be found in "Guidelines for drinking-water quality, 2nd ed. - Vol. 1. Recommendations. - Geneva, World Health Organization, 1993. pp. 49-50." and at http://www.who.int/ipcs/publications/newsletters/en/04.pdf
Some nations, notoriously more advanced on the problems connected to protection of the environment and public health (namely California in U.S.A) have adopted very strict measures on the presence of lead in products that are to come in contact with drinking water, measures known as "AB 1953".
Let's analyze them more in details:
Starting on January 2010 in the State of California has entered into force a law known as "AB 1953" that forbids manufacturing, commercialization and use of products intended for the distribution of water for human uses that are not "lead free".
The law specifies that, based on its aims, "lead free" means that the products must not contain a "weighted" average level of lead of over 0.25%, calculated this average by a weighted formula that is not necessary here to clarify.
It is obvious that limiting the lead contents to 0.25% (extremely lower than before and definitely very low) once again confirms the dangerousness of this element (Pb) and as a consequence it becomes necessary to drastically reduce the use of materials containing lead in the production of taps and fittings. One of such elements to be avoided is the brass.
Based on all of the above everybody can see that the definitive solution to this problem is to use, for the production of taps and fittings, a material that does not contain lead at all, a material that is already available: the stainless steel.


NICKEL
Recently in Northern Europe (notably Denmark and the Netherlands) showed the problem of the nickel leakage in drinking water from the taps in chromed brass.
The problem is so serious that it required the creation of a special European working team (CEN TC 164 WG3 AHG5) in charge of identifying reliable measures to limit the quantity of nickel leaked in drinking water by chromed brass taps and eventually to find an alternative to nickel.
Such an initiative was due to the fact that a greater and greater number of people present intolerance (allergy) to some metals and especially to nickel. Such an intolerance is so widespread (and sometime severe) that a car manufacturer as important as Volvo decided to run an advertising campaign (January 2009) that the interiors of their cars are made with materials with low release of nickel!
The most widely known intolerances to nickel are caused by contact but the most deceitful is the assumption of the nickel leaked in drinking water by the tap (the brass chrome plated one). It is in fact rather difficult to imagine that certain allergic manifestations might be attributable to the water flowing from the domestic kitchen tap!
The activity by the AHG5 team should have found the solutions to the uncertainties tied to nickel leakage in drinking water by chromed brass taps, but unfortunately the results are not particularly encouraging.
Let's analyse the problem.
In order to be sold the brass tap must be coated with a protective film which prevents oxidation of brass in contact with air, ie preventing to become covered with the oxide layer better known by the name "verdigris". The most widely used film is what we call "chrome plating".
Chromium is a hard metal, shiny, corrosion resistant, therefore ideal in appearance to coat and protect a tap. To improve the adhesiveness of chrome to brass an intermediate layer of nickel must however be created, between brass and chrome, by dipping the brass piece in an electrolytic solution of nickel. The galvanic current thanks to which the nickel adheres to the external surface of brass valve makes however the nickel penetrate also within the valve cavities, in which water will pass during use.
The extension of the contact surface between nickel and drinking water cannot so far be determined during production nor will it be measurable later on (save for destructing the piece!). And since it is impossible to determine how much nickel has penetrated in the cavities of the tap it will not be possible to assess in advance whether or not a nickel plated tap will release quantities of nickel in the water that could be considered toxic.
The test so far carried out have shown that the quantity of nickel leaked into the water by chrome plated taps (and by those subjected to nickel plating treatments) is almost always higher than the maximum limits set by law.
Also In this case the definitive solution to the problem is to use a material that doesn't need nickel plating and therefore will not leak nickel into the water. As we will later see such material exists and is the stainless steel.

 

CHROME
As mentioned above chrome is a hard, shiny, corrosion resistant metal, ideal apparently to plate and protect the surface of a tap.
Chrome does not present problems directly connected to the use of the tap. However are now well-known the terrible damages caused in past years to the environment and human health by use of hexavalent chromium, a substance that has only recently been acknowledged as highly cancerogenous and consequently has been strictly forbidden.
A type of chrome called "trivalent" is now being used to chrome plate taps, a substance of which has not yet been proven toxicity. However the plating processes, and especially chroming, have a strong negative impact on the environment: harmful alkaline and acid gaseous emissions, presence of toxic materials and high water consumption pose serious problems for the disposal of water and sewage sludge. Consider that in Italy about 2.200 tons of carbon chromic acid (the substance used for the chrome plating process) are used every year and that during chromium plating processes about 80% of the chrome ends up into the industrial waste water. To this must be added the considerable quantity of water required for the chroming process, water which returns heavily polluted into the environment.
Once again the definitive solution to produce taps and fittings is to use a material that does not require chroming and that therefore will not contribute to increasing the number of highly polluting processings. Obviously, as already mentioned above, such material is already available, and is the stainless steel.

 


Even though, as mentioned before, the motivations to use stainless steel to produce taps and fittings are already more than enough, it seems interesting to add some additional information that instead of being "against" could be more directly "for" the use of stainless steel.

 

STAINLESS STEEL


HISTORY
The authorship of the "discovery" or better "implementation", of stainless steel cannot be attributed to anyone in special. Many are in fact the scientists that have contributed to increase the knowledge of metallurgy starting in late XVIII Century and up to early 1900, a period that can be considered "the golden period" for the industrial development of the so called "stainless metals."
The countries that were most active in experimenting iron-carbon based alloys are England, France, Sweden and Germany. Just in Germany, in 1912, two engineers of Krupp Industry, E. Maurer and B. Strauss, deposited the patent for the realization of "austenitic" stainless steel, the category of metal to which belongs the alloy denominated "AISI 304" currently we use.

 

WHY STAINLESS STEEL TAPS?
An initial simple consideration to be made is that many of the objects currently used in everyday life for use on food, for health care, for cleaning are made of stainless steel: pots, tableware, kitchen sinks, coffee pots, trays, containers for liquids, etc...
When we expand our research we find that most of the metal items used in the food, wine-producing and pharmaceutical industries as well as in the hospital sector, where hygiene must be strictly guaranteed, are made of stainless steel.
So why not to produce with this material also taps?
Stainless steel is resistant to corrosion and is highly environment-friendly as it does not contain lead, does not leak nickel nor does it require protective coating, which are heavily polluting for the environment, such as chroming (which is instead indispensable for brass).
As opposed to brass, stainless steel is highly hygienic, because it presents a surface with a high density and without porosity. Such characteristics stop the superficial proliferation of bacteria, which can thus be easily removed. Last but not least stainless steel has an high mechanical resistance and therefore guarantees long life to the objects for which it is used.
Based on all of the above considerations is therefore irrefutable as stainless steel is the best material that could be used to produce taps for drinking water supply and for domestic use.

 

WHICH STAINLESS STEEL?
It is worth mentioning that the "stainless steel" category includes different types of steels more or less fit for the production of taps.
The two universally considered better fit for such use are the ones identified as AISI 304/304L and AISI 316/316L. We use the first type.
Other types (e.g. AISI 303) used by some manufacturers for their lower cost, do not guarantee the same quality in terms of resistance to corrosion and contact with drinking water.
It must finally be pointed out that there are on the market products which, although presented as made of stainless steel AISI 304, actually allow water to flow still in contact with brass, limiting itself in fact to simply cover in stainless steel the inner mechanisms made in cheaper but unhealthy brass.
It is clear how the unsuspecting consumer may be fooled by situations like this, and how then we can talk in these cases of stainless steel taps that are not "genuine."
Only the taps produced with 100% AISI 304 or AISI 316 stainless steel can be considered as produced with "genuine" stainless steel and therefore bear the "GENUINOX" brand name like the ones produced by A2F.
For further information on this subject please consult our "GENUINOX" booklet.

 

FINAL CONSIDERATIONS
We often meet clients that consider the tap, especially the kitchen tap, as an item of secondary importance.
Others that concentrate their attention for this item only in aesthetical terms.
We like to invite you to take into consideration how important a tap is in terms of hygiene, healthiness and ecology.
Every day we use our tap to drink, cook, make coffee or tea. According to statistics every day a person consumes 5 litres of water just for drinking/cooking.
That is 1.825 litres (400 gal lmp - 480 gal U.S.) per year.
Don't you think that such quantity would be a good reason to verify that our "friend" the tap be non-toxic, hygienic and totally healthy?
Or would you rather see yourself as a "living filter", through which every year flow almost 2.000 litres (500 gal) of water containing more or less substantial quantities of toxic-unhealthy heavy metals such as lead and nickel?
We would be delighted to learn that we have helped you to find the answer.

 

(1) - A tap is a valve controlling release of liquids (faucet and spigot are more common as U.S. terms)