A California appeals court ruled Nov. 17 that PEX (cross-linked polyethylene) pipe will be subject to California Environmental Quality Act review before it can be installed for drinking water in buildings in the state.

The latest turn in this legal battle comes in a lawsuit filed in 2001 by the California State Pipe Trades Council, a Sacramento-based organization representing 26 plumbing and pipefitting local unions. It charged that the pipes, which have been used since 1994 and included in the International Code Council’s standards since 1997, may leach Methyl Tertiary Butyl Ether (MTBE) and benzene into drinking water, prematurely decay and rupture and could spread fires more rapidly than metal pipe.


The unanimous decision by California’s Second District Court of Appeals agreed with the California Building Standards Commission and reversed a Los Angeles Superior Court ruling that PEX is a “product” and not a “project” and therefore did not fall under the state’s environmental process. The lower court had said that process was created to deal with land use and air quality issues.

“This is not a question of the technical abilities of PEX water distribution systems. It is a political issue being abused by the unions,” says Uponor Wirsbo, an Apple Valley, Minn.-based PEX manufacturer and Plastic Pipe and Fittings Association member. PPFA promotes the product as stronger, less expensive and quicker to install than conventional pipe.

“It is absolutely appropriate to apply these standards to building materials,” says Tim Frank, senior policy advisor for the Sierra Club, which joined in the suit. “The introduction of hazardous materials is a problem all over the nation and the world.”
“All new products have to go through this review,” says Ted A. Reed, executive director of the union council. He predicts other states will follow California’s example.