New York, one of the last states with broad prohibitions against using plastic pipe in most buildings, is in the midst of a political battle that is likely to decide how much of the pipe to allow.
The battle features television ads touting the dangers of plastic pipe and a tussle between state legislators who want to restrict plastic and a state agency that wants to see more of it.
Plumbers unions and some legislators are arguing that plastic pipe is dangerous and toxic and are advancing legislation that would restrict its use even more than New York's current code. On the other side, the state agency that writes New York's building codes favors allowing much more plastic pipe to be used.
New York has one of the most restrictive codes in the United States for plastic pipe, said Dottie Harris, assistant secretary of state for New York and a representative of the State Fire Prevention and Building Code Council.
New York code limits plastic pipe to some residential buildings of less than six stories, but Harris' agency wants the state to adopt the International Plumbing Code, which she said would allow plastic in most applications. Hearings are planned in August.
But the state Legislature is considering a measure that would overrule the code council and restrict plastic to buildings less than three stories because it considers plastic a fire hazard. That bill passed through committees and sits on the Assembly floor but has not advanced that far in the Senate.
The legislation says ``plastic piping has been found to be a dangerous and toxic element which inhibits fire fighting.'' It said that major fires at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas and the Beverly Hills Supper Club killed more than 200 people, and that ``all of the casualties were a direct result of the presence of PVC.''
Theresa Wescott, a spokeswoman for the state code council, disputed that allegation. She said those deaths were from smoke inhalation or because people were not able to exit the buildings. ``You can't attribute that to plastic pipe,'' she said.
The union pushing the legislation, the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry, did not respond to phone calls to its New York and Washington offices. Officials with the legislators pushing the bill either said they could not elaborate or did not respond.
The unions and plumbers have mounted television and print advertisements in New York against the bill, according to Wescott. But she said state officials do not have evidence that the plastic pipe is dangerous. A state technical committee that developed the regulations rejected limits on plastic pipe, with the union representatives voting for more limits, and the rest of the committee voting to allow plastic pipe.
``We just have no data that supports that'' plastic pipe is dangerous, she said.
According to technical committee minutes, union officials argued that plastics' fire hazards are well-established and said that some firefighters' trade associations also have concerns.
Steve Rosario, northeast region director for the American Plastics Council's office in Albany, N.Y., said plastic pipe tends to be opposed by unions and plumbers because it is easier to install than other types of pipe. He anticipates a difficult political fight.
``The plumbers are doing whatever they can to prevent the adoption'' of plastic,'' Rosario said. ``We are doing everything we can to allow New York to catch up to the other 49 states.''