2017/18 – Perth (Western Australia) – Lead Children’s Hospital

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Lead in water at Perth Children’s Hospital prompts national investigation

A NATIONAL probe into whether toxic lead is leaching into drinking water from plumbing inside Australian buildings is under way.

The Australian Building Codes Board has commissioned a research project to investigate potential sources of lead in plumbing materials.

Prompted by the Perth Children’s Hospital lead fiasco and concern about lead contamination in other buildings, the national regulator was asked to investigate the issue by the Building Ministers Forum, a body of Commonwealth, State and Territory ministers.

A recent report into the PCH debacle, stemming from a parliamentary inquiry, called for “urgent action to clarify whether the lead exceedances at PCH was an isolated event”.

Lead leaching from brass plumbing fittings “is a potentially significant public health issue”, it added.

ABCB chief executive Neil Savery said the project would also investigate the effect of water chemistry, quality and temperature on plumbing products/materials, the cumulative effect of multiple products/materials in a water service and the interaction of different products/materials.

The probe will also consider whether the relevant Australian Standards afford enough protection.

Australian Standards allow up to 4.5 per cent of lead content in materials that come into contact with potable water, whereas the US only allows up to 0.25 per cent because of increasing evidence of harm caused by low levels of lead in drinking water. Cheaper brass contains more lead.

WA Master Plumbers chief executive Murray Thomas said following the American step by reducing lead content to almost zero was the “logical pathway”.

However, the WA Government is still resisting calls to investigate the presence of lead in drinking water fountains at Optus Stadium.

Lead levels up to 14 times the Australian Drinking Water Guideline maximum of 0.01mg/L were found in samples collected by The Sunday Times and tested at accredited laboratories.

Building Commissioner Ken Bowron said the Optus Stadium fountains complied with Australia’s WaterMark Certification Scheme. Fountains at Whiteman Park closed last June after sampling revealed elevated lead levels. The taps and fittings, found to be the source of the contamination were also WaterMarked.