Posted on 11 March 2020
Growing concern of Lead in drinking water – REHAU launches Lead-Free Plumbing system
Lead has been used in brass plumbing systems for decades now. It brings in some useful characteristics to the alloy; making it stronger, malleable and more affordable. Yet, the main drawback of lead is not a secret anymore. Be it in petrol, paint or water, lead has always been toxic to human health.
In the past years, there has been a growing concern worldwide about lead leaching into drinking water. The United States addressed this 10 years ago by introducing a regulation that brings lead content in wetted plumbing materials down to a maximum level of 0.25%. In Australia, no restrictions have yet been put in place to reduce the occurrence of leaded water. Recently, however this has become a hot news topic and gaining coverage through more mainstream media outlets in Victoria in 2017, lead-poisoned water was found in public drinking water fountains, apparently due to leaded brass fittings and consequently all the fountains in the cities of Geelong and Warnambool were shut off temporarily. In the same year, lead-contaminated water in the new Perth Children’s Hospital caught the attention of the authorities. As a result the opening of the hospital was delayed causing huge costs and inconvenience to the tax payer and patients. In light of these cases, the quality of potable water in homes was also questioned. This led to Macquarie University to conduct a study to understand the extent of the problem. 212 homes in NSW were involved in the testing and the results were shocking. 56% of the samples had lead in the water but 8% had elevated lead level- more than 10 micrograms per litre as per the benchmark established by the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines (ADWG). When extrapolated, this implied that 720,000 homes in Australia could be affected, quite an alarming suggestion.
Later in 2018, real measures started to see light; the Environmental Health Standing Committee (EnHealth) recommended to householders to use low-lead or lead-free plumbing products and tapware as well as running the tap for a period before drinking. The Victoria School Building Authority (VSBA) also mentioned in their practice notes that henceforth, they will only use lead-free or lead-safe plumbing products for their new buildings and upgrades.
Whilst it is not set in stone, there is a strong belief that Australia will transition from 4.5% to 0.25% lead content in brass fittings by 2023, just like the United States. Furthermore, it is indicated that this initiative should also be integrated as a criteria for WaterMark certification and supported by point-of-sales legislations (Master Plumber and Gasfitters Association, 2018).
While Australia is not yet ready for a fully-fledged materials transition, this year REHAU will introduce their own Lead-Free solution that will help deliver cleaner and lead-free water, in both the Australian and New Zealand market. The range will consist of low lead and lead-free materials which have been extensively tested and proven technology, currently being used in Germany, far exceeding the most stringent water safety and hygiene standards.