Keeping lead out of your tap water

Lead can get into your tap water if it sits in old lead pipework in your home. Our partner, Anglian Water, shares information on how to keep your water lead-free.

Pregnant women and parents will be making healthy decisions every day about the food and drink they consume or give to their little ones. We all know drinking water is a vital part of a healthy diet, but have you ever thought about checking if your pipes may be causing lead to enter your drinking water?

Lead and children's health

The risk of lead poisoning these days is very low, as lead isn’t now usually used in household products such as paint and food containers. If your house was built before 1970, there’s a small chance it may contain lead pipes, which can cause lead to enter into your drinking water.

Lead can also get into your water supply in other ways, such as from the use of lead solder, even though this was banned for use in 1987 on drinking water plumbing systems or from certain brass fittings.

Exposure to lead can be especially harmful to unborn babies and children aged 10 and under.

The risk of lead poisoning is low, but where the build up of lead does occur it can be harmful. This is why the World Health Organisation recommends everyone should minimise their exposure.

During pregnancy and early life, babies and children absorb more lead than adults due to their growing bones and other organs, which lead can form deposits in.

Where it does occur it can cause developmental delay and learning difficulties in children. However there are some simple, cheap things you can do at home to reduce exposure to lead in drinking water.

How to find out if you have lead pipes

If your property was built before 1970, you can do some simple checks around your home to see if you have lead pipes. These are really easy to do, but if you have any concerns or are unsure please contact your Water Company who will be able to advise you.

Most Water Companies will offer a free testing service, where they will take a sample of water and test it for lead.

Not sure who your Water Company is? You can find out by checking out WaterUK

Most water samples tested will contain below the legal limit of lead, providing reassurance that no further action is required.

Where further action is required your Water Company will contact you to discuss the next course of action with you.

Recognising lead pipes

To find out if you have lead pipes inside your home, first, you should find the pipe leading to your internal stop tap and the kitchen tap. It’s usually under your kitchen sink or in the downstairs toilet.

Unpainted lead pipes will be dark grey or black, and their joints will look swollen. You could try and gently scrape the pipes with a coin. If they’re lead, a shiny silver strip will appear.

Another way to check is to tap the pipe with a metal object. A lead pipe will produce a dull thud rather than a clear ringing.

You may not always be able to see the pipework, so if your property was built before 1970 please contact your water company for further advice.

You could also try some of the simple measures below to reduce any potential lead in your water supply.

Ways to reduce lead

Lead has the potential to dissolve into drinking water when the water has been in contact with lead pipe or a source of lead for a few hours or longer. So, if you have lead pipes or a source of lead such as solder, here are some simple steps to minimise the risk of lead getting into your water:

  • If you haven’t turned the tap on for a long time – for example overnight – you should run your tap for about two minutes before using it for drinking or cooking. This will remove the water which has been standing for a while in the pipes. You could use this to water the garden or wash the car so it doesn’t go to waste.
  • Always use the cold tap for drinking and cooking, as lead will dissolve more readily into warm water. Even if you don’t have any sources of lead, it’s advisable for the hot tap not to be used.
  • Water from the cold tap should also always be used for preparing formula for babies’ bottles. Boiling the water might sterilise it, but won’t remove lead. (Please note it is not recommended to give bottled water to young children due to the levels of sodium and sulphates).
  • Make sure you run the cold water tap before using it to cook, drink or brush your teeth.

 

Things to bear in mind:

  • Replacing lead pipework is the best way to remove all sources of lead in your water supply, but in the meantime keep following the steps above to ensure that you minimise, as far as possible, any traces of lead in your water supply.
  • Water companies are responsible for the section of pipe coming from the water main to your property boundary, which is known as the communication pipe. The pipes from your property boundary to your tap are the homeowners’ responsibility.
  • Many water companies will replace the communication pipe if you decide to replace any lead pipework on your side of the property boundary.
  • All water companies will have different policies around replacing lead pipes, so please contact your local water company to find out more about what they are doing and what they can do to help.
  • Along with replacing pipework, many water companies will add a small amount of chemical to your water which will form a protective barrier on the inside of pipes, reducing the amount of lead which can get into your water supply.