Lead

Illustration of tap

When water leaves our treatment works, it’s lead free. But it can end up in your tap water if water’s left standing in old lead pipework around your home. Find out how to check for lead pipes and what to do if you find them.

Quick check list

• I think I may have lead pipework in my property or underground.
• My house was built before 1970.
• My pipework is dull grey or black or has a swollen joint.
• I’m worried about the health risks of lead in drinking water.
• I or my partner is pregnant and drinking the water.
• Young children are drinking the water.

FAQs

How do I know if I have lead pipe?

Lead has been used for plumbing since Roman times. If you live in a house built before 1970, chances are you may have lead pipework.

It just takes a few minutes to check:
find the point where the water pipe enters your property – it’s usually at the internal stop tap, typically under your kitchen sink or in the downstairs toilet
unpainted lead pipes are dark grey or black in colour and the joint will appear swollen
the metal is soft with a dull coating. If you scrape it gently with a coin, a shiny silver strip will appear

Why do I need to know about lead?

The latest medical advice suggests lead is most harmful if excessive levels build up in the body. It can affect the development of young children so it makes sense to consume as little as possible – especially pregnant women and young children under six.

The hard water in our region may reduce the amount of lead in our drinking water, but it won’t stop it. The amount of lead that can get into your drinking water may depend on how long the water has sat in the pipe (such as overnight), the age or condition of your pipe, whether it’s been disturbed recently and the water temperature (during the summer lead levels increase as the water warms and it’s more easily able to dissolve the lead).

How does lead get into my tap water?

If you have a lead pipe, your water can pick up traces of lead as it flows through, particularly if it’s left standing for a long period of time.

Lead solder was banned for use on drinking water pipes in 1987 but by then had already been used widely. In many older houses, this may also be a source of lead.

How can I reduce lead levels?

Replacing lead pipes is the only sure way to eliminate lead completely. However, there are some quick, simple steps that will reduce the lead levels in your drinking water:

  • only use water from the kitchen cold tap for drinking and cooking. Hot water dissolves lead more easily. Never cook or mix infant formula using water from the hot tap
  • don’t drink or cook with water left standing for a long time in the pipes. This means water standing overnight, or for several hours during the day. Run the tap for a couple of minutes before use and make sure you feel the temperature drop before cooking, drinking or brushing your teeth
  • some water filters remove traces of lead, provided the cartridges are changed regularly. Follow the manufacturers’ instructions and ensure your filter is designed to remove lead. For independent advice concerning water filters contact British Water
  • boiling will not remove lead from the water
  • take care if you’re doing any building or plumbing work which may disturb the lead pipes. Take extra care to flush the pipes when the work’s being carried out and for a few days afterwards.

Who owns the pipes?

Your drinking water can pick up lead from the pipework leading from the water main, underground into your property, or from lead pipe work inside your property. Pipes under the road or pavements up to the boundary of your property are usually our responsibility. The pipe from the property boundary up to and including the internal plumbing is normally the responsibility of the property owner. If you decide to replace the lead pipework to your property, we’ll replace our bit too.

How can I replace my pipe?

If you’re thinking of replacing your lead pipe, we’ll connect your new supply pipe to the water main. If our side of the pipe is lead, we’ll also replace this at the same time. And because you’re replacing a lead pipe, we normally won’t charge for this service.

Whenever you alter or replace pipework in your home, only use approved materials and an approved plumber or underground installer. Find out more about our Approved Plumber Scheme.

Our Networks Team will be happy to advise you on the best way replacing your pipe. Contact them on 01429 858 050


Get a grant

Low-income households could get financial support to replace lead pipework. Ask your local council.

Top tip

If you run off any water from your taps, don’t waste it, collect and use for watering houseplants or in the garden.

If you’re a business customer, contact your provider for more information.

 

 

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Registered Office: Lancaster House, Lancaster Way, Ermine Business Park, Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire. PE29 6XU