Does your Plumbing include Lead Soldered Yorkshire Fittings?
Local plumber Geoff Davey with an example of the old lead soldered Yorkshire fittings (the elbow bends). PHOTO: Geoff Walker. Volcano Art Prize (VAP) 2017 Entry. http://volcanoartprize.com/portfolio-item/lead-soldered-yorkshire-fittings/
This article is a re-write with corrections by Elizabeth O’Brien, of an article by Geoff Walker, originally published as: “Advice for Lead Soldered Fittings” in News of the area: Tilligerry Peninsular, NSW, Australia at http://www.newsofthearea.com.au/advice-lead-soldered-fittings-24590 on 17 March 2017
Test your water for lead if you have lead soldered fittings, non-stainless steel taps or valves, or rainwater
THE decline and fall of the Roman Empire has been thought by some to have been caused by lead. [Ref: Rome's Ruin by Lead Poison (book) by Colum S Gilfillan, PhD, Wenzel Press, California, 1990.]
That’s right! You see, Romans loved their lead which was a by-product of silver production and also mined in its own right.
A 1966 article in Time magazine, “Toxicology: Lead Among the Romans” says that in Roman times, lead was important in the manufacture of wine, pots, water pipes, cups, sieves, cosmetics, external medicines, paint, and, ironically, coffins. [Ref: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,842832,00.html ]
Only wealthy Romans could afford to have their water pipes made out of lead, as well as cooking utensils, plates, mugs, wine preservative cooking vessels (the wine preservative, grappa, was made by boiling grapes in lead vessels and the lead was drawn out of the pot, into the grapes which when added to wine, killed the bugs which would have otherwise turned the wine into vinegar), cosmetics, bread whitener, paints and jewellery.
There have, however, been studies of skeletons from these ancient times as bones and teeth are prime indicators of lead poisoning. Lead-preserved wine was shipped all over Europe [Ref: “History of Lead Use” by Katarina Lah, Toxipedia (2011) http://toxipedia.org/display/toxipedia/History+of+Lead+Use ] to wealthy Romans everywhere.
Results have concluded that the wealthier you were in ancient Rome, the more lead poisoned you became because you could afford preserved wine, lead pipes, cosmetics, jewellery, etc. Lead poisoning causes infertility and insanity. It is argued that wealthy Roman leaders were not able to replace themselves with children and died of dementia. Thus, the fall of the Roman Empire may well have been due to lead.
“In more modern times, the durability of lead made it an excellent paint additive, but the sweetness made it tempting to young children. Childhood lead poisoning was linked to lead-based paints in 1904… The addition of lead to gasoline is one of the greatest public health failures of the 20th century.” [ibid]
In Australia, we no longer get lead poisoning mainly from the vehicle emissions of vehicles using leaded petrol, because The LEAD Group succeeded in banning leaded petrol in Australia in 2002. And along with the Australian Paint Manufacturers Federation, The LEAD Group also succeeded in banning the addition of lead to new paints in 2010.
Building and demolition contractors, DIY renovators, children, pets, chooks, etc, continue to be exposed to lead via all the dust that ever accumulated from leaded petrol emissions fallout in buildings and on the ground and from all the pre 2010 lead paint that has fallen off structures or been dry-sanded, dry-scraped, water-blasted, or otherwise disseminated into building dust and soil.
But there is also a degree of concern about lead in our drinking water.
In the USA, lead based solder was banned nationwide from use in domestic water supply fittings by the Safe Drinking Water Act (1986). [Ref: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Safe_Drinking_Water_Act#1986_amendments]. In 2011, the US Congress enacted a law reducing the definition of "lead free" for pipes, pipe fittings, plumbing fittings, and fixtures from 8% to 0.25% by weight, effective 2014. In other words, you can go to a store in the US and buy taps etc labeled “lead free”, and know that it contains less than 0.25% lead.
By contrast, in 1994 in Australia, plumbers were expected to find out or know that they should not use lead solder for drinking water plumbing. It was not banned. To this day, lead solder for plumbing and other purposes is available at all hardware and plumbing supply stores in Australia and is not required to carry a warning label such as: “not suitable for potable water supply”. The Safe Drinking Water Regulations of South Australia for instance, do not mention the word “solder” or the word “lead”. Even though plumbing fixtures are permitted to contain up to 4.5% lead, they are not required to be labeled as containing lead.
If you live in a house built at any time in Australia, you could very well have lead soldered copper pipes and if the taps are new, or you have a pump, ball valves or lead in your rain water collection area, you may well have lead in your drinking water.
The lead can also be found in ‘Yorkshire’ fittings (see photo) which release the inbuilt lead solder when heated, for example, by sunshine.
Just scratch the grey oxide around a joint (for example, on either side of an elbow bend) and if it comes up soft and shiny, it’s lead. It can leach into the pipes.
If you have these types of plumbing fittings in your home, you can protect yourself to a degree by flushing the kitchen tap for about a minute before filling the electric jug or using the water for cooking or drinking.
Never drink water from the hot tap or the first flow of water from a mixer tap (after the hot water has been run) or a rarely used tap. Give it a good flush first. If your drinking water is rain water, flushing will not eradicate any lead in the tank, so always test rain water for lead, before drinking it.
If there is a water shortage and you can’t afford to flush the tap, or you have children or other residents who cannot be relied upon to always remember to flush the tap, or if you have new non-stainless steel taps, you should definitely test your water for lead before drinking it. The best way to test water for lead is by using a LEAD Group Water Kit available from www.leadsafeworld.com/shop