Finding lead in your water is a rare occurrence across Australia, as lead pipes were replaced with copper in the 1930s. However due to lead use in soldering it can still occur. In this article we tackle the issue in-depth, explaining how lead may enter our water supplies, what effect it can have on your health, and what you should do if you become concerned about the potential of lead contaminating your home or business building's tap water.
Australia has relatively few buildings where lead piping is installed, as copper began to replace lead piping throughout the 1930s. Problems associated with lead contamination in drinking water do still occur however, where there is corrosion on pipes that do contain lead in the piping itself or due to the fact that some pipes are fitted with lead based solders. This can be a problem particularly where water has been held within a space over a course of several hours. For this reason, most instances of this type of contamination occur during morning hours, or after a building has sat unused for a time period, such as business offices over a weekend.
The Australian Drinking Water Guidelines have defined the ‘safe’ level of lead fit for consumption as 0.01 mg per litre (this figure has been lowered from the previous recommendation of 0.05 mg per litre).
Despite these guidelines there is no national or local government enforced monitoring of lead contamination within public water supplies. This is really worrying if you consider that consumption of lead at levels just above the recommended amount has been linked to problems such as the slowing of mental and physical development in young children.
Even more concerning is that If you’re consume lead at higher levels over a long period of time it is known to cause significant damage to the brain, red blood cells, and kidneys and even with only short term exposure, can lead to elevated blood pressure levels.
“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".
The problem with this contaminant is that you can’t see, taste, or smell lead within your water. Indicators you can look out for include whether your building is using an old lead pipe system. If you have reason to believe this is the case at home or at work then you should contact your water supplier or local authority immediately. You can find the details of local governmental bodies that can help below.
For more information on levels of lead in drinking water, get in touch with the following organisations relevant to your location:
The Western Australian Health Department can be contacted on 08 9388 4999.
The Northern Australian Government have produced a dedicated fact sheet about Lead in Drinking Water, which can be viewed here.
Northern Australia is a territory with a wide array of public bodies that serve individual regions; visit the contact page for the Department of Health for the Northern Territory Government.
Queensland have a useful section on their website that guides you through the various metals that may be found within their water supplies (which includes lead).
For contact details for The Queensland Government Department of Energy and Water Supply, follow this link.
South Australia are perhaps the most proactive in their handling of water supply qualities. Detailed information about this can be found in their 2013-2014 Drinking Water Quality Report. The Government’s plan for water supply management and upgrades can be found here.
South Australia’s water entities are publicly owned and known as the business entity SA Water, you can contact them via the SA Water contact page.
South Wales adopt a robust approach to the monitoring of all water chemicals, more information on this can be found on the NSW Drinking Water Monitoring Program; you may also contact the NSW Ministry of Health via their contact page or read their Private Water Supply Guidelines.
Victoria has recently revised their Safe Drinking Water Regulations – you can read more about this here. Victoria also undertake an annual report of the water quality throughout the state, download the 2014-2015 report here.
Should you have concerns about your water supply in Victoria, you can contact the government’s dedicated department for their water program on: 1300 761 874 (during business hours); on pager: 1300 790 733 (which is a 24-hour pager service for public health emergencies) or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.