The use of lead water pipes was banned in the 1970s because of health risks, however properties built before then may still contain lead pipework.
Health risks of lead in drinking water
Lead builds up in the body over time. Children are particularly at risk as lead has been shown to have an adverse impact on mental development; it may also affect behaviour.
Checking for lead water pipes
Look at the pipe leading directly to your kitchen tap:
- Unpainted lead will be dull grey and soft
- Copper will be bright, hard and brown
- Iron will be dark, hard and possibly rusty
- Plastic will be blue, though older pipes may be black or grey
If in doubt, ask a plumber to check for you. Outside, look at the pipe which leads from the external stop valve to your property, or ask your water company if access is difficult.
How does lead get into drinking water?
In hard water areas the scale that forms on the inside of pipes will prevent lead from dissolving into the water, to a certain extent, so there’s a greater likelihood of lead being present in soft water supply areas. Even if water pipes are copper, it’s worth making sure that lead-based solder has not been used to join sections. This should only be used in closed central heating systems, but DIYers and unqualified tradesmen may make mistakes.
Is there lead in my drinking water?
Water companies take random daily samples from consumer taps for lead and will give you results of tests in your area on request. They will also tell you whether they are treating water to minimise lead pick up, and whether you live in an area with a history of lead pipes. You can have water sampled privately through a local environmental health service for a fee.
Who owns the pipes?
The communication pipe (which links the water main in the street to the stop valve outside a property) belongs to the water company. The private or supply pipe (from the external stop valve to the point where it enters the building) is the property owner’s responsibility, as is all the plumbing inside.
What to do if you have lead pipes:
- Don’t drink water that has been standing in the pipes for long (eg overnight)
- Run off water until the sink is full and discard it before using the tap as normal
- Replace the lead pipe between the stop valve and kitchen tap as soon as possible
- Ask your water company to replace the communication pipe — they are legally obliged to if test results show above standard levels of lead in the water
- When replacing lead pipes make sure you don’t remove electrical earths
Buying a property?
- Ask your surveyor to include a check of outside and internal water pipes as part of the survey
- Contact the water company for information about lead in the water supply zone
- The cost of removing lead pipes could be used in price negotiations
Repair and replacement
It’s worth noting that if you do have lead water pipes, and you have a leak for which you claim your insurance company is only obliged to repair the existing pipe, not to replace the lead pipe for a more modern polyethylene version.
Ask for advice
If you need friendly expert advice about repair or replacement of lead water pipes, speak to our experts on 0333 344 2937. We’ll be happy to help.