Lead is a metal commonly found in the environment. In the past, it was used widely in paint, as a petrol additive, and for plumbing materials. Lead is not used for water pipes anymore but properties built before 1970 may have lead pipes somewhere between the tap in the kitchen and the main in the street outside. Water that leaves our treatment plants contains virtually no lead. However, it may pick up lead as it passes through lead pipes.
Lead can be harmful to health if you are exposed to it over time. Children under six and babies are particularly at risk because of the possible effect on mental development. Lead can also be passed to the unborn child so pregnant women are at risk. The Government advises that people should minimise their exposure to lead from all sources, including drinking water.
The most effective way to reduce your exposure to lead from drinking water is to replace the lead pipework between the external stop tap and the kitchen tap. If you do this, we will replace the length of lead pipe that is our responsibility, free of charge.
Here are some simple short-term measures you can take to reduce the amount of lead in the water used for cooking and drinking:
- use only cold water – boiling will not remove lead
- if your tap has not been used for some time e.g. overnight, run the tap to flush out water that has been standing in the pipes. In most circumstances, you only need to fill a washing-up bowl. Don't waste this water – it can be used for other things, like watering plants. Please note, you will need to flush the tap for longer if your property is more than 50 metres from the main. As a guide, 10 metres of pipe holds 1.2 litres of water. It is not possible to completely flush out very long supply pipes (pipes greater than about 50 metres) and in these circumstances you should give serious consideration to having the lead pipework replaced
- if you decide to give infants bottled water, or use it for preparing infant formula, ensure that it contains less than 200mg per litre of sodium, sometimes written as ‘Na’. Check the bottle label for details
- filters are available to remove particulate lead, which are useful if your water contains lead-rich particles. However, to be effective, filter devices must be used according to manufacturers’ instructions
- when installing new plumbing or repairing or modifying existing plumbing, always use lead-free solder
- avoid disturbing or knocking lead pipes. Such mechanical action can generate particulate lead
- do not lay hot water pipes alongside or close to cold water pipes