How do I know if there are lead pipes in my house?
Look at the pipe leading to the kitchen tap and check along as much of its length as possible. Unpainted lead pipes are dull grey, they are also soft. If you scrape the surface gently with a knife you will see the shiny, silver coloured metal beneath. Outside your home you should also check the pipes leading from the stop valve to your house.
If you are in doubt a plumber or United Utilities should be able to advise you. If the pipe supplying water was installed before 1970 there is a probability, that increases with the age of the property, that they will be made of lead.
How can lead affect me?
Lead is an environmental pollutant in air, soil and water. It comes from many sources such as old paintwork, food and lead water pipes.
Lead can build up in the body and can be harmful especially for young children, babies and pregnant women. High levels of lead in children is thought to affect their mental development and cause behavioural problems.
What is the significance of lead in water?
Many old properties have old lead pipes. The amount of lead dissolved in the water depends on factors such as temperature, pH (acidity/alkalinity) of the water, the amount and length of lead pipes in the system and how long the water has been standing. The amount of lead absorbed from water is balanced against lead from other sources such as food and drink. This varies with age and nutritional status. Lead is then excreted by the body in urine, sweat, hair, finger nails and toe nails.
It is known that young children and infants absorb more lead than adults. Therefore, there are considerable variations between households and between individuals.
What do the levels of lead in water mean?
The Government has set a standard of 25pg/litre following international research. This level aims to protect the population in general. This level will be reduced by 10pg/litre in 2013, particularly to protect young children and infants. This is equivalent to 10 parts per thousand million.
Although excesses may on occasion result in lead retention in infants (this also being dependent on level of exposure from other sources) they will not necessarily mean that any measurable health effect will be produced. However, it is desirable that lead in drinking water should be reduced to lowest possible levels.
What are the symptoms of lead poisoning?
Acute lead poisoning symptoms may include vomiting, abdominal pains, irritability, constipation, listlessness, unsteady gait, anemia. (It must be remembered that these symptoms may be due to other causes and not just to lead poisoning).
Acute lead poisoning is generally associated with large doses of lead inhaled or ingested with large doses of lead inhaled or ingested; outbreaks have occured in certain occupations such as paint factories. This is not the same as slightly raised level in water. Other symptoms may include beharvioural effects. Mental development of children may be affected.
What do we know from research?
Population studies indicate that people living in cities have higher levels of lead than those living in the country (petrol fumes etc). Studies in Scotland where water lead levels are higher, indicate that a small proportion in the population (10%) will have levels in their blood of 25 ug/100ml. The Department of Health recommend that not more than 2% of the population should have blood lead levels above 25 ug/100ml. However, it is important to remember that lead in the human body can come from various sources in the environment. Removal of the source remains the key in the control of lead in the environment.
What is being done?
The first step has already been taken by your water suppliers, they are running schemes to replace the lead in your footpath with safer pipes. The next step is up to you. You can have the pipe replaced from the boundary to your house, this will eradicate the lead from your water supply.
All our plumbers are WRAS (Water Regulations Advisory Scheme) approved.