Lead pipes

Water does not contain lead when it leaves our treatment centres and there are no lead water mains in use in our region, therefore the mains water arriving outside your property is free from lead.

However, there may be lead pipework between the water main and your home, as well as inside of your property. Therefore, on the journey to your tap, drinking water may pick up lead as the water comes into contact with these sources.

We will be able to replace our pipework and potentially your external pipework subject to an inspection, but we will not be able to replace your internal pipework. Find out what pipework is your responsibility.

How lead affects your health

As lead is a well-established toxic substance, it is sensible to consume as little lead as possible, particularly if you are pregnant or in the case of young children and bottle-fed babies because the young are the most at risk.

To protect the health of the young, there are strict regulations governing the maximum amount of lead allowed in drinking water. It is unusual for water from taps in our region to exceed this limit but where we find levels in excess of the regulatory standard, we will investigate the cause.

According to the World Health Organisation, the majority of lead is ingested into the body from sources other than drinking water. Nevertheless, the UK government body states the following: “It is very unlikely that the general population will be exposed to a level of lead high enough to cause adverse health effects.”

How to check for lead pipes

When was your home built

If your home was built:

  • from 1985 onwards there shouldn’t be lead present in your plumbing system
  • between 1970 and 1985 it is unlikely you will have lead pipes but lead-based solder may have been used to join the copper pipes
  • before 1970 you may have lead pipes in your plumbing system.

What do lead pipes look like?

Lead is generally thicker than other metallic pipe materials and is also easier to scratch. Unpainted lead pipes look dull grey in colour and are also soft - if you gently scrape the pipe you will see shiny, silver-coloured metal. They are generally thicker than copper or plastic and usually have swollen joints.

Check for external lead pipes

To check the pipes outside your property, open the external stop tap cover (most often in the street) and examine the visible pipes. In some cases you may find it difficult to access this stop tap, or may not know where it is located. If so, please contact us to arrange an inspection.

Check for internal lead pipes

The best place to check for lead pipes is where the water pipe enters your home - this is usually the internal stop tap which may be under the kitchen sink, behind cupboards in the kitchen or under the stairs.

How to replace your lead pipes

For permanent peace of mind, we would advise that all the lead pipework in your property is replaced, together with any lead pipework from the water main to your home.

If you think you have external or internal lead pipes, you can contact us to arrange for a free water quality sample to be taken from your kitchen tap to test the level of lead.

If your sample has high levels of lead, we will come and replace our pipework. We may also be able to replace your external lead pipework subject to an inspector checking your property is suitable.

We do not replace internal lead pipework, as these pipes are your responsibility. We encourage you to consider replacing internal lead plumbing and advise you to obtain several quotations from reputable and approved plumbers.

How to reduce lead in your water

The only way to remove lead from your water is to have any internal or external lead pipework replaced, but you can reduce the levels of lead in your water by:

Using fresh tap water

For drinking and cooking, only use water from the kitchen cold water tap. Water from other cold taps may come from a storage tank which isn't as fresh as cold water drawn straight from the main. Using water from the hot water system isn't recommended as it's likely to contain higher levels of metals than cold water.

Flushing your tap

Lead can dissolve into water if it stands in lead pipes. If it has been more than 30 minutes since the tap was used, run it before using water for drinking or cooking. As a guide, if your house is less than about 20 metres from the road, runoff about half a washing-up bowl to clear the pipe; any further away you should run off a full washing-up bowl. The water runoff can be used in the garden or to water houseplants.

What we’re doing about lead pipes

In some areas we have adjusted the way we treat water to cause an internal lining to form in lead pipes. This helps to reduce the amount of lead that is directly in contact with your water. This only reduces lead pick up and does not completely prevent it.

We are also replacing lead pipes as part of a rolling maintenance programme, which involves proactively locating and replacing lead pipes, to move towards our long-term aspiration of removing all lead pipes from our network.