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Replacing lead pipes in schools

Tuesday 30th July 2019 12:00

Thames Water is going back to school to remove most of the remaining lead pipes from London primaries and nurseries, after a record replacement year.

The company will use the summer holidays and empty playgrounds to complete work in a further 206 schools, including Old Palace of John Whitgift Junior School in Croydon, Holy Cross Preparatory School in Kingston, and Kobi Nazrul Primary School in Tower Hamlets.

By 2025, as part of its next five-year business plan, the company will have covered its entire region as part of a long-term aim to eliminate the risk of lead from its drinking water network.

Thames Water surveyed around 2,000 London schools for younger pupils built before the 1970s, and around 450 of those needed lead replacement work. Work has been completed in more than 200 schools so far, including 80 over April half term, with most of the remaining jobs set to be finished before classes start again in September. The outstanding work is expected to take place over October half term.

In total, 12,500 lead communication pipes – the largest in a single year – were identified and replaced across London and the Thames Valley in 2018/19.

Tim McMahon, Thames Water’s head of water networks, said: “It’s been a fantastic team effort over the last year, working at record pace with primary schools and nurseries across London, as well as customers across our wider region, to find and replace the old lead pipework. This and the freedom to step-up the pace over the summer holidays has put us firmly on track to ensure we can complete this important piece of work on schedule by December.

“Our long term aim, as part of building a better future for our region, is to eliminate the risk of lead from our entire drinking water network. It’s a key area of focus for the company, and we’re committed to working closely with our customers to deliver the change.”

If drinking water stands in contact with lead pipework for a period of time, lead may dissolve into the water which can present a risk to public health. In response, Thames Water has introduced several specific programmes and initiatives over the last two decades, agreed with its customers and supported by regulators. Key actions have included:

  • Installation of phosphate dosing equipment at relevant water treatment works to condition the pipework and reduce the plumbosolvent nature of water
  • A substantial programme of lead communication pipe replacement in targeted at-risk areas
  • Replacement of a lead communication pipe at an individual property where a sample result exceeds the drinking water quality standard 
  • Replacement of lead communication pipes identified during mains renewal programmes
  • Customer communications explaining the potential risk to health caused by lead pipework, and support on actions to take 

This programme of work has resulted in a significant reduction in the levels of lead encountered during the company’s comprehensive monitoring programme. In total, Thames Water will identify and replace more than 50,000 lead communication pipes as part of its business plan for 2020-25.

The term ‘communication pipe’ refers to the length of pipe between the water main and the edge of a property boundary, and these are Thames Water’s responsibility. The pipes inside the boundary are the customers’ responsibility, although company experts will work with the property owners to provide the best solution to reduce any lead risk.