Lead Testing in Water – is it Needed in the UK?
May 5th, 2023
Last updated: June 9th, 2023
A lot of us have heard about high-profile cases of lead being present in the water supply and causing illness and even death in certain communities. The risks of lead have not always been understood which is why it was used in some circumstances where it shouldn’t have been. This includes pipes.
Some of the tragic cases of lead contaminating a supply of water include the health crisis in Flint, Michigan, where both lead and possibly legionella were causes of fatalities and illnesses.
So do we need to be vigilant in the UK? Is lead as much of an issue as it has been in some other parts of the world?
Risks of Lead in the Water Supply
The presence of lead in any drinking water can be very dangerous. Lead exposure can be particularly dangerous for children, pregnant women, and adults with weakened immune systems. When lead enters the body, it has the potential cause damage to the brain, kidneys, and other organs, as well as even impacting the development of the nervous system.
The dangers of lead in water are mainly associated with the ingestion of contaminated water. Lead can enter drinking water through a variety of sources, including old pipes and plumbing fixtures, lead-based solder used to join pipes, and lead service lines that connect homes to the water supply. When lead is present in drinking water, it can cause a number of health problems, including anaemia, kidney damage, and even neurological issues.
It is absolutely crucial to work out what a communal supply of water, such as in a workplace, is made up of. If you are the owner of the business or occupier of the building it is your responsibility to make sure that there is a safe supply of water, testing for issues by sampling water and testing for things like legionella.
Is Lead in Water a Problem in the UK?
According to the UK’s Drinking Water Inspectorate:
“Occasionally lead occurs naturally in groundwater however, this is a rare situation in the UK and lead is not present in the water within our wider public water supply network.”
Put simply, it is incredibly rare for the public supply of water to be contaminated with any form of lead. The risks of a wide-scale contamination like some we have seen in other parts of the world are low.
However, that doesn’t mean that there is no need to test, especially if you are occupying an older building. Especially prior to 1970, buildings often used lead pipe, which had the potential to dissolve into the supply and cause serious illness.
If you are concerned about the pipework, a commercial plumber will be able to inspect and tell you if there is a risk caused by the old pipework in the building. Replacing lead pipework might be necessary, but this can be a significant and expensive job, depending on the size of the plumbing system and the condition of the pipes, as well as how accessible they are.
Testing the Waters
Water testing is the only way to be sure you are providing safe drinking water. Regulations including the Water Supply (Water Fittings) Regulations 1999 and Health and Safety at Work Act (1974) cover commercial responsibilities when it comes to a water supply. This outlines the need for things like legionella risk assessments within your workplace.
The types of testing we carry out can show the following:
- If there are high levels of bacteria in the water.
- If your water contains harmful chemicals.
- If the water is not clean enough for drinking or food preparation.
- If your supply of water has a pH level unsuitable for its application.
We can also test for the chemical makeup of the water and any contaminants, including:
- Dissolved oxygen
- Total Dissolved Solids (TDS)
- Metals and heavy metals in the water including lead.
Do Employers Have to Provide Drinking Water?
This is a question that links closely with water quality at work and the presence of lead in water. Some businesses may be tempted to not provide water. This is not an option, it is clearly outlined in law that employers have the responsibility to provide a source of drinking water. This can potentially come in the form of bottled water, but that can be an expensive option for employers.
Summary – The Risks of Lead in Water
Though the risks of lead in water in the UK are relatively low, it is still essential to check that the quality of the water is up to the required standard. Those operating commercial premises have the responsibility to provide clean water and to protect the health and safety of visitors and employees.
Robinsons Facilities Services can provide a comprehensive water sampling and testing service for your Yorkshire business.
We can provide water testing in line with British Standards. All of our water tests are carried out by UKAS accredited laboratories.
Working across all partsYorkshire, we cover North Yorkshire, West Yorkshire, East Yorkshire and South Yorkshire and offer a fast, efficient response time and thorough water sampling and management, as well as plumbing services. Contact us today for all planned, reactive maintenance or emergency call out. Call 01423 226578 or get in touch to see how Robinsons Facilities Services can help.