Call for removal of lead pipes in homes

Sat, Jan 7, 2012, 00:00

THE REMOVAL of lead pipes from the State’s drinking water network must be “balanced” by the removal of such pipes from private properties, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Water authorities are currently removing all lead pipes from the main distribution network to comply with stricter EU limits on lead concentrations, which become effective in 2013.

The amount of residual lead piping so far identified by water authorities is 5,559 metres, and not kilometres, as reported in yesterday’s Irish Times. The Department of the Environment said this work was expected to cost €10-€12 million, considerably less than reported yesterday.

The EPA has issued legally binding enforcement notices to four local authorities regarding five water supplies.

But according to the agency’s latest report on drinking water, other lead service pipes – typically used to link properties built before 1970 to local water mains – are the responsibility of property owners.

While replacing lead mains will reduce consumer exposure to lead concentrations, the agency said “this alone will not deal with the main cause of lead exceedances nationally”. Replacing water authority pipes “in the absence of the replacement of the property owners’ lead pipework, will not reduce lead levels below safe levels” the report added. The report, published last month, highlighted the EU’s intention to reduce limits from 25 to 10 microgrammes per litre of water.

EPA programme manager Gerard O’Leary said efforts to eliminate lead from drinking water “must be balanced” and include replacement of privately owned lead pipes as well as water mains made of the material.

He said about a third of the State’s homes were built before 1970 and lead plumbing may have been used. However, he said, because lead tended to leak, it may have been upgraded in many homes already.