Is lead harmful?
In the past, lead was widely used for everything from plumbing to electronics.
It is now known that over time, exposure to lead can affect health, with the greatest risk being to children under six and to pregnant women.
As a result, the Government has banned the use of lead in many products, and it has not been used for water pipes since 1970. The Government also advises that we should minimise our exposure to lead from all sources, including drinking water.
You can find out more about the health issues here.
- This leaflet from the Drinking Water Inspectorate (DWI) (PDF 100 KB opens in a new window) explains how lead can get into water and what you can do to safeguard health
- Public Health England has a number of downloadable leaflets about lead and its effects on health
Does your home have lead pipes?
If your home has been modernised since 1970 and all of the pipes from the water company's stop valve outside your home to the kitchen tap have been replaced, there should be no lead pipe on your property.
However, a third of properties in the North West built before 1970 are believed to still have some lead plumbing. If you live in an older property, your supply pipe - the underground pipe that connects your home to the public water mains - could be made of lead, and there's a chance that there may be some lead pipes inside your home.
Below are some simple ways to check if you have lead pipes.
Identifying Lead Pipes and Actions you can take
Inside the house
Ask your neighbour - if their home has lead pipes, yours might too, especially if the two properties are of a similar age. Look in or behind kitchen cupboards (or in the cellar, garage or cupboard under the stairs) to find the pipe leading to the kitchen tap. To check if it is lead along as much of its length as possible, look out for the following:
- colour - unpainted lead pipes appear dull grey
- they are also soft and have irregular bends
- the scratch test - if they are gently scraped you'll see the shiny, silver-coloured metal beneath
Outside the house
Open the flap of the stop valve outside your property. Examine the pipe leading from the stop valve to your house. You might want to ask your water company or a plumber to carry out this check for you as, in some cases, access can be difficult.
How will you know the difference between lead and other materials? Other pipe materials in common use are:
- copper - bright, hard and dull brown
- iron - dark, very hard and may be rusty
- plastic - typically blue but, if older, may be grey or black
Ways to minimise the risk from lead pipes
If you do have lead pipes, don't worry - there are lots of ways to minimise the risks from lead to you and your family. However, the surest way to protect yourself and your family against the health risks from lead water pipes is to get them replaced
If you are still unsure, ask a plumber for a second opinion. Need help finding a plumber? Find one here.