The water that leaves our treatment works and passes through our distribution network is virtually free of lead. However, the pipework leading from our mains into some properties can be made of lead. Very small amounts of lead from this pipework can dissolve into the water as it passes through and/or stands in the pipes and this can result in elevated concentrations of lead in the drinking water. The longer the water is in contact with the lead pipes the higher the lead concentration in the water is likely to be.
The current standard for lead in drinking water is 10µg/l, which came into force on 25th December 2013. Over the last ten years we have installed treatment at our treatment works that supply areas where lead pipework is prevalent and this helps to reduce the amount of lead that dissolves into the water. This treatment has been very successful and means that over 98% of properties are compliant with the 10µg/l standard.
Awareness of lead and its impact on health has increased in recent years and it appears that it has most affect on foetuses and young children. This knowledge has led to campaigns to significantly reduce lead found in the environment, such as unleaded petrol and lead free paints. It is therefore sensible to reduce exposure to lead to as little as possible and so reducing lead in drinking water is another step towards this goal.
Prior to 1970 lead was commonly used for pipework in and around properties because it was flexible yet robust. However, the use of lead pipework was banned in 1969, so properties built since this time are highly unlikely to contain lead pipework.
If you want to check the pipework in your property the best place to start is where the water supply enters you house. This is normally in the kitchen but can be elsewhere and is typically where the internal stopcock is located. Lead pipes are normally dark grey in colour but if gently scraped shiny silver coloured marks appear.
Other commonly used plumbing materials are: copper, which is bright or dull brown in colour and quite hard; galvanised iron, which is dark brown, very hard and may have some rusty deposits around it; and plastic, which can be blue or black.
Lead may also be introduced to drinking water through the illegal use of lead-based solder to join sections of copper pipework carrying drinking water. Lead-based solder can still be used within closed-loop central heating systems, however sometimes this solder can mistakenly be used within pipework supplying drinking water.
Most houses have been re-plumbed above ground level but there may still be lead pipework in the ground under your property. This pipework is the responsibility of the property owner.
If you establish that your water supply does pass through lead pipework it is advisable to run the water for a minute before using it for drinking or cooking purposes, especially after the water has been standing for a long time e.g. first thing in the morning. The water that is run off can be used for washing or plant watering purposes.
In the long term it is advisable to line or replace any lead pipework. All lead pipework within the boundary of your property is the property owner's responsibility. A qualified plumber will be able to help with advice on replacement of pipework, visit www.watersafe.org.uk. to find your nearest qualified plumber >>
If you decide to replace this pipework Affinity Water will line or replace any lead pipework between the water main and the edge of your property (known as the communications pipe) free of charge, as long as it is on a like for like basis. If the pipe size needs to be changed and/or a different connection location is required, charges may apply.
Once you have lined or replaced the lead pipework in you property please contact us to inform us that you have carried out this work and you would like us to line/replace the communications pipe if it is found to be lead.
We will then arrange for the work to be carried out and keep you informed of our progress.
If you would like further information about lead in the water supply please contact us. A member of the water quality team will contact you and, if appropriate, will arrange for a sample to be taken of your drinking water to determine the level of lead in it.
Alternatively you can contact your Local Authority’s Environmental Health Office.
WaterUK, who represent all UK water and wastewater service suppliers at national and European level, has produced a consumer guide ‘Looking After Water in Your Home’ which shows how to keep water in top condition and avoid problems that can affect taste and odour.