Back in early 2013 there was a lot of publicity about the number of homes that might have lead in their water supply. As part of the water metering project – Irish Water checked for the presence of lead piping going into in homes and identified about 26,000 homes where lead pipes are present . (The real figure could be as much as 100,000.)
You can buy a basic testing kit like this one to check for the presence of lead in your water.
Lead in water can cause adverse health effects – even at low levels.
The legal limit for lead in drinking water was 25 microgrammes per litre up until December 2013 when the levels were reduced to the current level of 10ug/L or 10 microgrammes per litre . (There is no real safe level of lead – it is a danger to health at any level.)
In June 2013 the government announced a “national strategy” to reduce the level of lead in drinking water. This included a proposal of financial assistance for householders of up to €4000 towards the replacement of lead pipes. The grant scheme was not finalised until Spring 2016. ( You must get the remedial work done before applying for the grant.)
Details of the grant are given below.
Households with incomes up to €50,000 a year can claim 80% of the pipe replacement costs back or €4,000 – whichever is the lesser.
Households with incomes between €50,001 to €75,000, can claim 50% of the costs back, up to a maximum of €2,500.
If you choose to replace lead pipes within your property, Irish Water will replace the public connection (between the mains and the meter) if it is also made of lead.
No grants are available for households earning more than €75,000.
You must own the dwelling and live in it as your main home). You must get the remedial work done before applying for the grant.
The contractor who does the work must give you a current tax clearance certificate; itemised receipts; written confirmation that materials used are of appropriate quality and written confirmation that a proper standard of workmanship has been applied.
You must also get evidence of a risk of lead contamination in your home. This can either be a letter from your water supplier, advising that your water system is likely to contain lead pipes and fittings, or
A certificate from an accredited laboratory, showing that the amount of lead in your water supply is over the statutory limit
You will need to enclose all these documents with your grant application.
Grant applications need to be made to your local authority. An application form and more details are available here
The major source of lead in drinking water is from lead pipes. Local authorities and previous governments have known about the lead pipe issue for many years.
Irish Water inherited the problem from the local authorities – and their records show that there are no lead MAINS pipes – but the records show there could be several thousand lead pipes that connect the mains to individual homes (The service pipes).
There are also several thousand homes that could have lead pipes or lead connections in the internal plumbing or between the service pipe and the house. (Mainly those built pre 1970’s) .
The only way to guarantee lead free water is to replace all the lead piping.
Back in 2006 the EPA also highlighted the problem with lead and recommended that all the local authorities should carry out a survey to determine the extent of lead piping in the distribution network .
Health Effects of Lead in Water:
Lead affects the developing brain so the risk is greatest for young children, infants and babies in the womb.
Bottle-fed infants are most affected by lead in drinking water, because for the first 6 months of life, all of their food comes from formula made up with drinking water. They also drink a lot of liquid for their body weight.
How do you spot Lead Pipes?
Unpainted lead pipes appear dull grey. They are also soft and if they are gently scraped you will see the shiny, silver-coloured metal beneath. Alternatively, tapping lead pipes with a metal object will produce a ‘dull’ sound rather than the clearer ringing sound heard from copper or iron pipes.
If your home was built before or during the 1970’s and you are not sure if the water pipes have been replaced – it is a good idea to flush the tap before drinking. The cold water kitchen tap should be run to fill the sink, particularly first thing in the morning or if the water has been unused in the pipe for a period of 6 hours or more. The tap water can then be used for drinking and cooking.
You can get your drinking water tested by some private laboratories – and the charge would be in the region of €200 to €250.
More about lead from the HSE here.