Plumbing

ABCB investigates lead in drinking water

27/03/2019
Water being poured from tap at sink

The ABCB has conducted work over the past 12 months to examine the possible contribution of lead in plumbing products to reports of lead levels higher than those prescribed in the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines.

What causes lead in drinking water?

In a number of instances, the cause has been traced to the use of non-conforming plumbing products low water usage, where water is stagnant in the pipes for extended periods of time or a combination of factors. To investigate the issue further, the ABCB commissioned Professor Mark Taylor of Macquarie University to conduct a literature review to determine to what extent plumbing products and materials contribute to lead levels in drinking water.

The Lead in Plumbing Products and Materials Report confirmed that brass components containing lead used in water supply and plumbing systems can leach lead into drinking water.  Multiple factors influence the release of lead from these components, including variations in:

  • pH;
  • chemical composition of the drinking water;
  • galvanic reactions;
  • temperature;
  • disinfection treatments;
  • flow rates; and
  • the elapsed time between use of pipes and fixtures.

The report recommended that in order to limit the release of lead in drinking water, consideration should be given to low or lead-free plumbing products being used in drinking water systems.

Is our water safe?

On 25 November 2018, Australia’s Chief Medical Officer, Professor Brendan Murphy, stated that our drinking water is safe and there is no evidence of adverse effects on human health from the consumption of lead in drinking water in Australia. However, as lead is not considered beneficial or necessary for human health, public health experts recommend Australians take every opportunity to limit potential exposure from all sources.

The Environmental Health Standing Committee (enHealth) in consultation with the ABCB, released a Guidance Statement on lead in drinking water from some plumbing products in July 2018. The statement recommended that every effort should be made to reduce exposure to lead in the environment, including lead that may be leaching into drinking water from some plumbing products.

Low levels of lead are permitted in brass plumbing products to make the brass bendable for the manufacture of the products. The lead levels allowed within new plumbing products under the NCC are within the World Health Organisation and Australian Drinking Water Guidelines. The contribution of lead from new products to water systems from plumbing products is very low. Higher concentrations are likely where older plumbing installations or non-conforming products, with concentrations of lead that exceed that set by the NCC and referenced Australian Standard AS/NZS 4020.

Consultation

As part of the assessment of a change to the requirements of the NCC and the relevant product standards, the ABCB will undertake regulatory impact analysis and engage closely with enHealth, Standards Australia and industry. In particular manufacturers and distributors of plumbing products on impacts to stocked plumbing product, international supply chains and availability of technology. This will inform feasible options to reduce the amount of lead from new plumbing products in drinking water systems and the achievable timeframes. It is important to note that if such a reduction is achieved, it would not eliminate traces of lead in water from other sources.

A Regulatory Impact Statement will be developed by the ABCB and include a period of public consultation in late 2019, which will be made available on through the Consultation section.

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