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Incorporating Lead Aware Times ( ISSN 1440-4966) and Lead Advisory Service News ( ISSN 1440-0561)
The Journal of The LEAD (Lead Education and Abatement Design) Group Inc.

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Lead in Drinking Water in Australia
Hazards associated with lead based solder on pipes

Fact sheet written and illustrated by Patricia Parkinson, Lead Advisory Service Australia

Australians! Take action
today. Is lead harming
you & your kids? Buy low
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laboratory lead test kits
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Water Lead test Kits

In Australia, little is heard about drinking water as a source of lead poisoning, probably because – unlike Europe and the US – lead pipe plumbing is not widespread in Australian homes. The late Lead Reference Centre (a section of NSW Environment Protection Authority devoted to lead policy and education from 1997-9) has not even devoted a fact sheet to the subject. Nevertheless, it may be an issue worth investigating if your home was built prior to the 1930’s, when copper pipes replaced lead pipes. 

The main concern, however, arises out of the common use of lead based solder on brass fittings and copper pipes up until as recently as 1989. As a result of corrosion, there is a potential for the lead to leach into the water after prolonged contact. It is therefore the consumption of first flush water – the first cup of tea in the morning – which presents a hazard.

This was demonstrated in a study conducted by Dr Brian Gulson, in 1992 in the Sydney suburbs of Turramurra, Burwood, and Epping and in Broken Hill in the far west of New South Wales. The study revealed that the lead levels in first flush tap water in many cases exceeded the acceptable level.

Further studies conducted in Perth (WA) in 1993 on cold water from kitchen taps have indicated that 5% of samples were above the acceptable lead level as defined by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), 2% were above the limit for cadmium and 12% above the limit for copper.

The maximum acceptable level of lead (and other heavy metals) in drinking water has been established by the NHMRC in the "Australian Drinking Water Guidelines" at 0.01 mg/L (lowered from 0.05 mg/L). And yes, as your plumber should be able to tell you, the use of lead based solder on drinking water pipes has been banned in Australia since 1989 (see box).

However, there is virtually no monitoring of the water quality at the kitchen tap. Water quality monitoring takes place before the water reaches your home, with the exception of the occasional monitoring at the garden tap. This is not going to tell you whether the water in your kitchen is safe after travelling in your plumbing system.

Legal framework: Standards and Regulations…

The Australian Standard AS 3500 Part 1.2 (1998) 'National Plumbing and Drainage – Water Supply – Acceptable Solutions' effectively prohibits the use of lead based solders by providing that soft solder shall "not contain more than 0.1% lead by weight". This requirement was adopted in the 'Plumbing and Drainage Code of Practice’ and given its legal force by its inclusion in Water Authorities regulations. In Sydney for example, it is in the 'Sydney Water Corporation (Plumbing and Drainage) Regulation (1995)', section 4.

The manufacturers of lead solder are under no obligation to label their product as unsuitable for use on drinking water pipes. So beware of the Do-It-Yourself (DIY) plumber jobs!

There is also a standard pertaining to the lead content of taps (and other water supplies, currently allowing up to 4.5% lead as an alloying element in brasses used in potable water supply.

What can you do about it?

Here are some steps you can take to protect yourself and your family if you suspect that lead based solder was used in your home:

  • If you do not know when or how your plumbing system was installed, you can collect a sample of water from your kitchen tap and send it to a laboratory for analysis;

  • Flush your plumbing in the morning. It takes on average 10 litres – or one minute – of running water to flush each tap every morning (I know, this is not good for water conservation). This is however impractical in high rise buildings including most office buildings, due to the length of pipes;

  • Avoid using hot water for drinking or cooking purposes (this advice applies equally to non-leaded plumbing systems - in order to reduce copper intake);

  • Install a water filter.

If your drinking water comes from a rainwater tank…

You should definitely have your tap water tested for lead by a laboratory.

Phone the Global Lead Advice and Support Service - +61 2 9716 0132 or within Australia 1800 626 086 - or purchase a Kit from http://www.leadsafeworld.com/shop/ OR print form for mail order or fax with your name, Visa or Mastercard details, postal address, email address and phone number, to purchase a DIY Home Lead Assessment Kit.

See Do-It-Yourself-Lead-Safe-Test-Kits so you can specify if you need a Basic 2-sample Kit $120 or $100 for LEAD Group members, 2-sample Water Kit $100 or $85 for LEAD Group members or the Comprehensive 8-sample kit for $275 or $250 for LEAD Group members

Become a member of The LEAD group Inc. at http://www.leadsafeworld.com/shop/ (which also entails emailed notification when a newsletter is web-published and entitles you to discounts when you purchase any of our DIY-sampling laboratory lead analysis kits) Membership is only $10 per annum

The Kit provides sample bottles and instructions for you to collect water sample/s (or roof paint or flashing sample/s etc), and the price covers the cost of the laboratory analysis for lead.

One quarter of the tank water samples tested in a Victorian study contained more than the acceptable drinking water level of lead. Lead contamination of tank water could be the result of lead paint or flashing on roofs, lead paint or soldering in the guttering, soft soldered tanks or lead fallout from air pollution including from smelting, mining, lead paint removal, vehicle emissions and wood smoke, lead washers from corrugated roofing (which sometimes fall into the tank), overflow from hot water systems and evaporative air conditioners. Go to  the department of Human Services Victoria website for a pamphlet on maintenance of tanks, entitled "Your Private Drinking Water Supply" also see Rainwater use in urban communities and www.health.vic.gov.au/environment/water/tanks.htm .

Government policies on lead in drinking water in Australia

The recommendations of the National Strategy for Reducing Lead Exposure in Australia, include to:- "implement a pilot program for testing lead in first flush drinking water, rainwater tanks and drinking fountains; conduct education programs to inform home handy persons of the dangers in using lead solder in plumbing and review drinking water guidelines for lead in context of an overall lead reduction strategy." Contact your state health department to ask for an update on this policy and for information on the education program in your state.


"Will that be leaded or unleaded coffee sir?"
A study conducted in Perth on water collected from water boilers, urns and coffee and cappuccino machines from restaurants, offices, workplaces and schools, found that 67% of the samples contained excessive levels of lead. The probable source of the contamination was brass components in contact with hot water


  1. The US EPA has suggested that 20-40% of the average blood lead levels in children in the US is from drinking water.

  2. 'Effect of plumbing on lead content of drinking water and contribution to lead body burden', Brian L. Gulson, Alistair J. Law, Michael J. Korsch, Karen J. Mizon, The Science of the Total Environment, 1994.

  3. 'Lead contamination in Perth drinking water', Peter McCafferty MRCI, Roger Schulz and Ron D’Ercole, Chemistry in Australia, August 1995.

  4. Investigation of Microbiological and Chemical Water Quality in Rainwater Tanks in Victoria, Report No. 139/97' by Bannister, R; Westwood J; McNeill, A; Water Ecoscience Pty Ltd for Department of Natural Resources and Environment (VIC), June 1997.

  5. Recommendation 8: 'Recommendations for a National Strategy' in Reducing Lead Exposure in Australia – July 1993, Final Report, Pages ES 7 to ES 20. Funded by National Health and Medical Research Council. Published by Commonwealth Department of Human Services and Health, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, 1994.

Contents | Previous Item | Next Item

The LEAD Group Inc. Fact Sheet Index

NSW Lead Reference Centre and NSW Government Publications On this site

  1. About the Global Lead Advice and Support Service (GLASS)

  2. Main Sources of Lead

  3. How Would You Know If You or Your Child Was lead poisoned?

  4. Lead aware housekeeping

  5. Ceiling dust & lead poisoning

  6. Is your yard lead safe?

  7. Health Impacts of lead poisoning

  8. Rotary Questionnaire

  9. Lead poisoned Pets and Your Family

  10. Childhood Lead Poisoning Risk Factor Questionnaire

  11. Is Your Child Safe From Lead? - What Can You Do About Lead?

  12. Lead in Drinking Water in Australia

  13. Have We Really Resolved The Lead Issue?

  14. The Importance of the Availability of "Spot Tests" for Lead in Paint

  15. Pregnant or Planning a Pregnancy

  16. Breastfeeding and Lead

  17. Lead in breast milk

  18. Beware The Lead In Lead Lighting

  19. Renting and Lead

  20. What to do if you have too much lead in your tank water

  21. Lead Contamination in Stormwater

  22. Contamination At Shooting Ranges

  23. Banned: Leaded Wick Candles

  24. Lead, Ageing and Death

  25. Metal miniatures: How to minimise the risks of lead poisoning and contamination

  26. 7 Point Plan for the MANAGEMENT OF LEAD by Australian parents and carers

  27. Countries where Leaded Petrol is Possibly Still Sold for Road Use, As at 17th June 2011

  28. Lead Poisoning And The Brain - Cognitive Deficits And Mental Illness

  29. Facts and Firsts of Lead

  30. Lead mining royalties by state and territory

  31. Lead Mining Stewardship - Grey Lead and the Role of The LEAD Group

  32. Preventative Strategies of The LEAD Group

  33. What do Doctors need to do about Lead?

  34. A Naturopath's Experience Of Lead & People With Diagnosed Mental Illness

  35. Case File: Helping Manage Australian Lead in Petrol - How GLASS Works

  36. Glass Web & Service-Users, Experts & Volunteers, by Country; Countries with Leaded Petrol for Road Use & Worst Pollution

  37. Lead in ceiling dust

  38. Lead paint & ceiling dust management - how to do it lead-safely

  39. Esperance parliamentary inquiry follow-up factsheet: Where to from Here??

  40. Broken Hill lead miners factsheet 1893 with Note 20081015

  41. Helping a Doctor Help 35,000 Lead-Poisoned People Around the Lead Smelter at La Oroya in Peru
    Ayuda a un doctor que ayuda 35,000 personas envenenadas por plomo alrededor de la fundidora de plomo en la Oroya-Peru

  42. Fact sheet for Australian toy importers and traders

  43. Iron Nutrition & Lead Toxicity
    Informe de Acciones – Hierro y Plomo en la Nutrición

  44. Sanitarium-Are You getting Enough Iron

  45. Do-It-Yourself-Lead-Safe-Test-Kits-flyer

  46. Blood lead testing: who to test, when, and how to respond to the result

  47. Dangers of a blood lead level above 2 µg/dL and below 10 µg/dL to both adults and children

  48. Lead Exposure & Alzheimer’s Disease: Is There A Link?

  49. In CHINA - Blood lead testing: who to test, when, and how to respond to the result

  50. Why you should have your ceiling dust removed before you take advantage of the Australian government's Energy Efficient Homes Package: Insulation Program

  51. Alperstein et al Lead Alert - A Guide For Health Professionals 1994

  52. Ceiling Dust WorkCover Guide Lee Schreiber Final Nov 1999

  53. What can I do about climate change AND lead?

  54. The Need for Expert Clinical Assessments in Diagnosis Of Heavy Metal Poisoning

  55. Why you should have your ceiling dust removed before you have insulation installed

  56. Thirty Thought-Starters on Ceiling Void Dust in Homes

  57. Pectin: Panacea for both lead poisoning and lead contamination

  58. Nutrients that reduce lead poisoning June 2010

  59. Lead poisoning and menopause

  60. Fact sheet For Schoolkids From Professor Knowlead About Lead

  61. Prevention of Exposure to Lead at Work in Indonesia

  62. Mencegah kontak dengan timbal di tempat kerja di Indonesia

  63. How to Protect Your Family from Lead in Indonesia

  64. Bagaimana melindungi keluargamu dari timbal di Indonesia

  65. Cigarette Smoking & Lead Toxicity
     صحيفة معلومات: التدخين والتسمم بالرصاص

  66. Medical Evaluation Questionnaire For Occupational Lead Exposure

  67. Dangers of a blood lead level above 2 µg/dL and below 10 µg/dL to children

  68. Dangers of a blood lead level above 2 µg/dL and below 10 µg/dL to adults

  69. Biosolids used as fertilizer in China and other countries

  70. What are the lead poisoning risks of a lead pellet, bullet or shot lodged in the body?

  71. Alcohol’s link to higher lead and iron levels

  72. USA Case Definition of Adult (including Occupational) & Child Elevated Blood Lead Levels (EBLL)

  73. Low Level Lead Exposure Harms Children - A Renewed Call for Primary Prevention

  74. Occupational Health & Safety Fact Sheet Dangers of lead for roofers

  75. Let’s Make Leaded Petrol History - Let’s Make Leaded Gasoline History

  76. Lead, Your Health & the Environment. Available in Arabic, Chinese, English, Korean, Macedonian, Spanish, Turkish and Vietnamese 

  77. Lead Safe Housekeeping

  78. Old Lead Paint

  79. Working safely with lead

  80. A Renovator's Guide To The Dangers Of Lead (Brochure 30 pages)

  81. A Guide For Health Care Professionals (Brochure 34 pages)

  82. A Guide To Keeping Your Family Safe From Lead (Brochure 20 pages)

  83. Lead Hazard Management In Children's Services (Brochure 15 pages)

  84. A Guide To Dealing With Soil That Might Be Lead-Contaminated

  85. Exposure Assessment: Lead Neurotoxicity - Is the Center for Disease Control's goal to reduce lead below 10 µg/dl blood in all children younger than 72 months by 2010, good enough?

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The LEAD Group Inc
The Lead Education and Abatement Design Group
Working to eliminate lead poisoning globally and to protect the
environment from lead in all its uses: past, current and new uses
ABN 25 819 463 114

Australians! Take action
today. Is lead harming
you & your kids? Buy low
cost, NATA accredited
laboratory lead test kits
Sample your dust,
soil, water, paint, toys,
jewellery, ceramics
what's new 

Water Lead test Kits

Proceeds from our DIY Home Lead Assessment kit sales go towards the
Keeping Australian Lead Out of Leaded Petrol Initiative.

About Us | bell system lead poisoning | Contact Us | Council LEAD Project | egroups | Library - Fact Sheets | Home Page | Media Releases
| Q & A | Referral lists | Reports | Site Map | Slide Shows - Films | Subscription | Useful Links |  Search this Site

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 Last Updated 26 November 2014
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PO Box 161 Summer Hill NSW 2130 Australia
Phone: +61 2 9716 0014