Introducing CESWI 8
Published on: 14 Nov 2023
It's #TechnicalTuesday so #teamWRc Principal Consultant James Lees is discussing Lead: the buried problem…
Like many things in the water industry, we are constrained and impacted by decisions made tens, and in some cases, hundreds of years ago. A great example of this is lead. Lead can have serious health impacts, especially for children and expectant mothers and, according to the World Health Organisation, there is no safe limit.
Although lead has been banned for some time on potable water, hundreds of thousands of supply pipes in the UK are made of lead and we still see examples today where lead is installed on new customer supply pipework (due to its availability as a legal solder on heating systems).
What do we do about this, given lead is still very much prevalent in our water supply network through supply pipes and leaded joints? Well, water companies treat water with chemicals such as orthophosphate to line lead supplies and this significantly reduces exposure to lead and failures, but we know this isn’t 100% effective and can still expose lead to the potable water (plus there are significant financial and environmental impacts of permanently dosing chemicals). Water companies also have lead programmes that renew lead supplies free of charge. But is this happening fast enough and consistently across the UK to reduce the risk of lead to public health?
We also know what we don’t know, and that’s the location of every single lead supply pipe in the UK (another legacy issue of poor data capture). Therefore targeting areas and lead supplies is difficult for water companies alone to undertake and they need support, particularly financially, as it is not cheap to replace lead pipework, especially when it doesn’t belong to the water company. Furthermore, with the current living crisis, increasing everyone’s bills is not going to be well received. Therefore, other solutions are required if we are to accelerate the removal of lead in direct contact with potable water, as these are slow in coming to that table at present. There's a lot to do in the lead sphere…
Principal Consultant - WRc Approved
James has over 13 years’ experience in the Water Industry before recently moving to WRc. Previously, he has managed external certifications to ISO standards and managed leak detection teams and leakage performance of the South West of Wales. For the latter part of his career, he has focused on lead renewals, customer water efficiency and the managed the Water Regulations function.