Push to reduce the amount of lead in drinking water by changing taps
April 26 2021
A push is on to remove a dangerous source of lead in our drinking water, with building authorities recommending that billions of dollars worth of taps and other plumbing be replaced.
While our drinking water is generally safe, there is a fear that poisonous lead may be leaching from brass fittings.
The Australian Building Codes Board is about to release a new draft National Construction Code, with a key change to the allowable amount of lead from fittings – reducing it from the current 6 per cent to 0.25 per cent, the standard already used in countries such as the US and Canada.
Macquarie University environmental scientist, Professor Mark Taylor, has been recommending the shift for years.
“Nearly all water is safe,” he told 9News.
“But there are occasions when certain waters from certain taps in certain locations contain a lead concentration which is in excess of the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines.”
Research conducted by Macquarie University, and revealed by 9News in 2016, found more than half of tap water samples taken from households in NSW contained lead.
And, one in 12 exceeded the maximum amount permitted by the water guidelines.
Plumbing and tap water fittings were identified as the major source. While the research was conducted in NSW, the same fittings are used across Australia.
“I think it’s a really important change because it removes any uncertainty about the quality of our drinking water coming out of our most commonly used water source which is the tap in our kitchen,” Professor Taylor says.
“There is no safe level of lead exposure and we should mitigate all possible sources where we can. Lead can cause neuro-cognitive problems.
“It’s particularly harmful to young children. It can delay puberty. It can affect their intellectual development. It can cause other problems such as ADHD or irritability. And exposure doesn’t go away.”
The draft National Construction Code will suggest phasing out high lead taps, mixers, water dispensers and valves over three years and replacing them with low lead versions.
But the low lead versions are more expensive and the cost to households could be $2.1 billion over a decade.
However, the health impacts from lead exposure could be as high as $5 billion over the same period.
Homeowners won’t be forced to change immediately, though. But, as they come to replace taps and other plumbing, the low lead fittings will eventually be the only option.
“It’s a contaminant we can deal with,” Professor Taylor said.
“It’s a contaminant that causes definitive harm and lasting harm. And, it’s a contaminant that we know how to address. It’s a problem that can be solved.”
In the meantime, the advice is – flush water from your taps in the morning for 30 seconds before drinking. Professor Taylor adding that, if you’re going to make one change: “Just replace the tap in the kitchen. That’s the most important.”