Our water mains aren’t made of lead, and there’s virtually no lead in the drinking water that leaves our treatment works. However, you may have a lead pipe feeding your property or in your internal plumbing, and if so small amounts of lead may dissolve into your water.
If your house was built after 1970 or has had all its pipework replaced since then, it’s unlikely to have lead pipework.
There’s virtually no risk to health from the maximum levels of lead permitted in drinking water, although the Department of Health recommends you should try to reduce lead levels even further – particularly if you’re pregnant or have young children.
The use of lead in water pipes has been banned since the 1970s. Exposure to significant quantities of lead can be harmful to health, especially for unborn babies and young children.
If you own an older property, you may be worried about lead levels. However, as the water in our region is hard, limescale is likely to build up within your pipes, helping to prevent lead from dissolving into the water. As a result, lead levels are usually low.
We also add a small amount of phosphate to most of our water, which acts like limescale, reducing lead levels even further. Phosphate at such levels is not harmful and is about 500 times lower than the phosphate levels in milk.
In addition, we’re gradually replacing the lead pipes we own in areas where they’re most common. Under this scheme we remove the communication pipe, which usually runs from our water main to the property boundary, and install a new plastic pipe.
The water pipe that joins our water main to your property is called your service pipe. This is divided into two parts.
We own the communication pipe that starts at our water main and usually runs to the outside stop valve at your property boundary. We’re responsible for maintaining or replacing these pipes.
As well as your internal pipework, you own the supply pipe that starts at your outside stop valve and ends at your inside stop valve. These pipes can either be separate (one pipe per property) or shared (two or more properties fed by a single supply pipe).
Many older properties, particularly terraced houses, are served by a shared supply pipe.
If you have a separate supply pipe, you're responsible for maintaining or, if necessary, replacing it.
If you’re on a shared supply pipe, you and your neighbours are jointly responsible for maintaining or replacing it. You’ll be individually responsible for any branch of pipe that solely feeds your property.
To completely separate your clean water pipework from your neighbours’, you’ll need to apply for a new water connection. If you’d like your own supply pipe, get a quote for a new water connection now.
Inside your home: Check the pipe leading to the internal stop valve. This is usually under the kitchen sink, behind the kitchen cupboards or sometimes in the cupboard under the stairs. Find out more on how to find and use your inside stop valve.
Outside your home: Open the flap of your outside stop valve and look at the pipe running towards your property. Find out more about how to find and use your outside stop valve.
If you have lead pipes in your property, we recommend you flush out your pipes to reduce lead levels each day, especially in the mornings or if you’ve been away for a few days.
It’s easy to flush your pipes – just leave your cold kitchen tap running for approximately two minutes before you drink or cook with the water. This will help to clear any standing water that’s been sat in your lead pipework for long periods of time. You can then use your cold kitchen tap as normal.
You can collect the water you flush and put it to good use, such as watering your plants or washing your car.
We test our water at every stage of the treatment process, including regular lead monitoring at randomly selected properties. If we ever find traces of lead above the standard in your home, we’ll inform you and your local authority’s environmental health department straight away. We’ll let you know what we plan to do as well as share advice on how you can reduce lead levels in your water.
If you’re replacing your lead pipes, we’d normally arrange to replace any lead piping that belongs to us, free of charge, with plastic piping. However, due to staffing issues related to coronavirus, we’re currently unable to accept new applications.
For the time being, we’ve therefore had to temporarily remove the application form for our lead pipe replacement scheme.
We’re aiming to reintroduce this service in January 2021. In the meantime, we’re really sorry for any inconvenience this causes. If you’ve already submitted an application, we’ll continue to process this and replace our lead pipework as normal.
If you replace your own lead pipework during this period and haven’t yet applied, you’ll be able to do so once we re-open the scheme and we’ll arrange to replace any lead pipework belonging to us. Please note that, if you’ve backfilled your trench, you’ll potentially need to re-open it so that we can inspect the pipework.
If in the meantime you’re thinking about replacing your lead pipes, you’ll need to consider the following:
See ‘Do I have lead pipes?’ above.
If you’re not sure, we suggest asking an approved plumber.
If you have a shared supply pipe, you have two options:
If your house was built before 1966, it’s possible that the pipework we own provides the main electrical earthing, which is an essential safety measure. You’ll need to consider this if you ask us to replace it as part of our lead pipe replacement scheme (which we’ve had to temporarily suspend – see above).
You’ll need to ask a qualified electrician to review this for you.
You must ensure the work satisfies the Water Supply (Water Fittings) Regulations.
We recommend you use an approved plumber, who’ll carry out the work in line with these requirements and provide a certificate for their work, such as the Thames Approved Plumbers Scheme (TAPS) or Water Industry Approved Plumbers Scheme (WIAPS).
If your house was built before 1966, make sure you’ve checked your earthing connection before you replace any pipes. In older properties, a lead pipe sometimes provides the main electrical earthing, which is an essential safety measure for your home’s electricity supply.
If you’re unsure, we recommend contacting your electricity supplier or a qualified electrician. They may recommend that you have your earthing checked, and they could charge for this service. In most cases, they’ll only need to take a quick look at your wiring.
To find a reputable local electrician, check out the Association of National Inspection Council for Electrical Installation or the National Professional Inspectors and Testers.