Plumbing the depths of 'lead free' water
By Hesaan Sheridan, LEAD Group UK Branch Committee Member, and Elizabeth O’Brien, Co-founder and President of The LEAD Group
The LEAD Group has reached out to 20,000+ professional plumbers in a major step towards achieving lead free drinking water, in the article “Lead in Drinking Water: Up to 720,000 Homes Affected” (http://plumbingconnection.com.au/wp-content/uploads/flipbooks/PC-Winter-2017/files/assets/common/downloads/untitled.pdf) which was published in the Plumbing Connection Magazine Winter 2017 Edition.
Photo of Elizabeth O’Brien by Peter Kozaitis. This photo appeared in the Plumbing Connection article.
The problem of lead in drinking water was brought to the fore by Dr Paul Harvey and Professor Mark Taylor's recent study (Ref: Harvey, P., Taylor, M., August 2016. Widespread Copper and Lead Contamination of Household Drinking Water, New South Wales, Australia. Environmental Research, 151, 275-285, http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/journal/00139351) and the much publicised lead in water contamination problem that prevented the opening of a new multi-million dollar hospital in Perth.
The source/s of lead contamination in water are remarkably difficult to identify, however, the new Harvey and Taylor study provided scientific evidence of the link between lead in water and plumbing tapware and fittings.
The excellent Plumbing Connection article by John Power says:
“[Harvey and Taylor’s] study involved the sampling of potable water drawn from the kitchen taps of 212 homes across the entire State, and detected lead in 56% of samples; some 8% of the total test samples exceeded recommended lead thresholds of 0.01mg/L of water, as stipulated in the Federal Government-approved advisory document Australian Drinking Water Guidelines2. A straightforward extrapolation of the findings at a national scale, based on Australia’s nine million dwellings, equates to approximately 720,000 households with unsafe levels of lead in their drinking water….
“At present there are no systematised checks of lead levels in water (drawn from the tap) in Australian buildings. This observation forms a good starting point for the obvious question: What checks and balances, if any, DO exist to tackle the issue of lead in drinking water?
“At present there is no requirement on anybody to test water at the tap, and there should be,” Elizabeth says. “And if there were then we could a) do a baseline of what percentage of Australian homes have too much lead in their water at the tap, and b) we would know which plumbing products, particularly new ones, were to be taken off the market.”
Achievement of certification or “WaterMark” (which is often valid for 5 years) for a plumbing fitting does not provide process control and therefore doesn’t guarantee that the water will have non-detectable lead levels (The LEAD Group’s only recommended level) due to fluctuations in raw materials and component supply. Clearly, there is a need for in situ testing of the system as a whole, rather than piecemeal.
“Furthermore, Elizabeth says existing WaterMark certifications lack credibility because they fail to address ‘full system’ plumbing installations. In other words, fittings or components that receive certification ‘individually’ might breach water quality guidelines when installed collectively as a system.
“Russell Kirkwood, Director and Forensic Plumber, Metropolis Solutions, agrees that this concern is legitimate, particularly in relation to larger buildings, where lead concentrations in fittings become elevated overnight, in particular, due to prolonged contact between still water and surrounding fittings. This point reinforces the dangers of using first-draw water in the morning, as noted above in relation to the Macquarie University study. NB: thorough flushing is by no means a panacea, and cannot be relied upon to mitigate lead leaching in all circumstances….
Testing first draw water and flushed water at the tap for lead (at a lab), before drinking it, is the only way forward to achieving undetectable lead in water. By forming Partnerships (see below) with makers/importers of stainless steel taps and pumps and non-lead flashing, The LEAD Group is leading the way to non-detectable lead levels in drinking water in Australia.
By promoting a possible ban on leaded brass in plumbing fittings, or at the very least a regulated and drastic reduction of the lead content of plumbing brass, we hope to move Australia’s plumbing regulators to take action towards this new vision.
Lead Free Partners of the Lead Safe World Partnership of The LEAD Group:
||Vinco stainless steel tapware (visit www.vinco.com.au) is lead-safe and carries full endorsement from The LEAD Group.
DEKS Industries Pty. Ltd., - distributors of lead-free flashing made in Denmark. DEKS became a Lead Safe World Partner in the Lead Free products category on 7 April 2017. See DEKS article in this newsletter.
Evo Building Products imports from Germany and distributes WAKAFLEX Lead Free Flexible Flashing in Australia and New Zealand. Evo Build was a founding Partner of the Lead Safe World Partnership, launched 26th October 2013.