Drinking Water Inspectorate. Lead in drinking water. 2010. (accessed 11 August 2016)

US Environmental Protection Agency. Basic Information about Lead in Drinking Water. 2016. (accessed 11 August 2016)

Time for UK water companies to stop swinging the lead

02 September 2016
2 min read
Volume 24 · Issue 9


Lead particles in tap water pose potential harm, particularly to fetuses and infants. Professor Robert Atenstaedt argues that, as the cost of replacing pipes is too high for many families, water companies should offer grants to help clean up the water supply.

Lead is a naturally occurring toxic metal that can harm human health (US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 2016). Fetuses, infants and children are especially vulnerable; low levels of exposure have been linked to nervous system damage, learning disabilities, hearing problems and shorter stature. There are multiple sources of lead exposure including soil, dust, paint, air, food and drinking water.

Lead is not usually present in the UK public water supply network (Drinking Water Inspectorate, 2010). However, prior to 1970, many smaller domestic water pipes were constructed from lead. Where there is greatest likelihood of lead from pipes being present in the water, such as soft upland water areas, the water is usually treated with the chemical orthophosphate to reduce exposure. Nevertheless, lead particles may accumulate in these older pipes and can appear in tap water.

If an individual suspects that their home has lead pipework, they can normally request that their water company test their drinking water (Drinking Water Inspectorate, 2010). The current UK drinking water standard is 10 μg/l. However, the US EPA (2016) has set the maximum contaminant level goal for lead in drinking water at zero, signifying that there is no safe level of exposure to lead.

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